Leadership Learnings: Parting Tips

I have mixed feelings at the moment as I prepare to transition from the City of Holdfast Bay to my new role at City of Unley.  I’m overjoyed and elated, a tad bit sad and entirely moved to my core for what has been an outpouring of support, gratitude and mutual admiration.  I cannot thank the people I have worked with over the last two years enough.  Marvellous, talented and dedicated bunch of legends, the lot of them.

As is my way, I sent to my nearest and dearest work peeps a list of parting tips: advice and inspiration to help them navigate and master the challenges that leadership brings.  These received such lovely comments, that I have felt encouraged to share these more widely, noting that it is not a complete list (because when would it ever be?) and are abridged for relevance as they are very local government founded.

Here goes:

People (and this is the first and largest section because, frankly, it’s the most important)

  • Be authentic.  Authenticity breeds trust and trust is the foundation of functional teams.  No point trying to be someone your not.  Continue to build self-awareness and embrace who you are – know your strengths and work with them.  Understand your responses and limitations and work with that too.
  • As a leader, staff look to you and to other managers as role models.  To quote Robin Sharma – “Leading by example is one of the most powerful tools for positively influencing change in other people”.  Your team’s culture and performance is a direct reflection on your leadership abilities.
  • Believe in your people – not just who they are today, but also in their potential selves.  See past what you know and look deeper. Each of your people are individuals with their own talents, experiences, values and aspirations.
  • Be true with your words and look to do “no harm”. Choose your words carefully as you want to grow people to reach potential – not break them and damage their self-esteem.
  • When recruiting look for attitude, experience and fit for the culture you want to create and the outcomes you want to achieve every time.  Don’t hire to create clones of you or anyone else in your team or to create friendships or alliances. Look for complementary skills and above all else, COMPETANCE.
  • Focus on inspiration over motivation (which is an internal process):  How can I inspire my people to work to their potential and be productive?
  • High performing teams have 2 distinct qualities:  1) a mutual commitment to organisational outcomes AND 2) a high commitment to each other’s growth and success.  Team members hold each other accountable for both these outcomes.
  • Communicate:  There can never be enough of this.  Face to face is the most effective way to build relationships and email is the least.  Be present, accessible and approachable.  Your people need to trust you.
  • GOYA (Get off your arse): Don’t underestimate the value of just walking around and saying hi and see how people are doing – it counts!
  • Use your People and Culture team! They are there to help you both work through problems and find solutions that are consistent with our EB processes.  It never hurts to run things by them and keep them informed – that way they know what is going on and can be part of the solution.
  • Problems do not just magically “go away” by themselves – avoiding/ignoring a problem or issue only causes it to fester, snowball and break down trust.  Deal with it fairly and objectively – but act fast to prevent it getting worse.  Performance management is critical.
  • Never, ever tolerate bullying, harassment or victimisation.  You have a “Duty of Care” to act fast, preferably catching it before it does damage.   If you are seeing signs of someone being bullied or people ganging up on/excluding/gossiping about an individual – act fast!  Also be very clear on the definitions of these – I find people use these terms too loosely, when they mean something else entirely.
  • Impartially investigate claims and complaints.  There are often several sides (at least 2, but usually 3-4) to every story and your role is not to take sides, but ensure a fair and proper process is in place to protect the wellbeing of everyone directly and indirectly involved.
  • People are complex.  Where there is an issue (be it performance or attitudinal) I’ve found that, on exploration, things are never what they immediately seem.  Ensure you seek to understand what sits behind someone’s behaviour.   It may be nothing to do with work – but instead a personal crisis.
  • Give credit and positive reinforcement where you can.  Remember:  a leader gives credit when things go right and takes responsibility when things go wrong.
  • Promote fun while doing great work.  Fun increases energy, boosts relationships and drops stress levels.  Bring enjoyment to the work place and know that laughter is an indicator of a healthy workplace.
  • When it comes to all living things – kindness and compassion are invaluable qualities.  Empathy always and tread lightly….

Managing Up

  • Among other things general managers are there to provide organisational context, progress, value and sustainability, ensuring priorities are realised and support you in delivering outcomes.  They are also working to build strong networks with key stakeholders and interest groups and will have a good understanding of who they are and how to work with them.
  • See your direct manager is a “co-owner” of your business.  They are your partner and are well within their rights to work with you to set direction, adjust and know about what is happening in your team.    Involve them, be open and keep them in the loop and informed of issues and situations that could go pear shaped.  They are your #1 advocate.
  • Take time to really understand their priorities, values and language – knowing this goes a long way to reducing misunderstanding and develops mutual appreciation and a firm foundation for mutual trust.
  • Respect their workload – look for ways to make their roles easier – the more you can do to help them help you, the better off the relationship becomes


  • In Local Government, your budget is RATEPAYERS money – treasure it and act responsibly.  Think of yourselves as custodians of their investment.
  • Know your budget – keep an eye on it and watch for variances – both in relation to variance to budget and actual net.
  • The bottom line (net position) is what it’s all about – $0 variance is the goal.  Both high savings and losses are clear signs of an unmanaged budget (*blogger’s note:  this is specifically for community teams in local government and certainly does not apply for commercial enterprises where it’s all about the profit!!!).
  • Forecasting is critical – anticipated savings should be redirected either to organisational offset or reinvested in real business to bring community outcomes.  Savings = wasted opportunities (*again as above)
  • Continue to look for efficiencies and continuous improvement – how can you save Council $ and maximise value back to the community. (*as above)

Strategy & Project Management

  • Know your Strategic Plan: you should know the organisation’s priorities and have a clear idea where your project/service fits and the imperative for it happening.  Same goes for legislative requirements. You should always be asking, “What is Council’s role in providing this service/initiative”, to what degree and why.
  • Never underestimate the value of a project plan – outlining the purpose of the project, the key actions/milestones, timeframes and accountabilities.   It is often the difference between project success and failure.
  • Good management process identifies risks and considers approaches to minimise these.
  • Understand your audience – know who your initiative will affect (both directly and indirectly) and plan to inform and include them.  Engagement at a levels is key.  Face to face is always best – it gives people a chance to be heard, feel their contribution is immediately acknowledged, builds trust and gives you a chance to clear up misunderstandings with those who are sensitive to the matter.  Be brave – it’s worth it.
  • Celebrate success and completion of milestones.  It doesn’t have to be huge – but recognising achievement is important.

See it’s simple (easy peasy right?!?) 🙂  There are more top tips of course (I could go on forever), but want these to be useful, rather than bore everyone silly.

I hope you find these useful too and I’d love to hear any of your top tips for leadership and thoughts on the above…



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