Leading through Change with Susan Forrester AM

By Courtney Mathew

23 May 2020

Earlier this May, Susan Forrester AM kindly joined us for our WiBF Leadership Series Webinar. With a career spanning over twenty-five years, she drew on her leadership journey to provide our audience practical perspectives and advice on managing others and taking on challenges that arise in our careers. She also spoke on the value of mentoring others and gave us insight into how boards manage effectively with the constantly changing environment. 

Across her illustrious career, Susan has acted as board director, CEO and worked in executive management roles. However, the roles that propelled her career were often the ones where she took a leap of faith into responsibility. Though scary, these opportunities allowed her to gain exposure to other personalities and working styles. This variety in people has helped build her leadership skill set and breath. 

Susan highlighted a time where she took on a role managing people who had more technical experience, and management qualifications than her. A daunting prospect as you can imagine! She initially felt challenged by the role, but over time her confidence in her abilities solidified and she could use her leadership skillset to effectively manage her team. Similarly, when asked to chair a company without having specific experience in that industry, she took the opportunity anyway. They wouldn’t have asked her to Chair the organisation if they did not believe in her abilities. Susan explained that, as per the findings from the Diligent Institute report – A Few Good Women, when a woman first puts their hands up for a board role, it often leads to even more opportunities and directorship offers. Thereforeit is important to say yes when opportunities arise as it can snowball into further success and development as time goes on. 

On managing others effectively, Susan says that we need to first manage ourselves with good diet, exercise, recreation, and social interaction. She emphasised the importance of empathy, trying to understand that everybody is going through unique, and sometimes chaotic, circumstances. It’s important to check in with your team and ensure they are coping well enough to in turn build resilience and confidence in themselvesCourage, humility, discipline are the key characteristics that needed during times like these. The courage to keep going forward in uncertainty, humility in receiving advice and feedback, and discipline to drive your career… as no one else will take responsibility for it 

Susan shared some her insights from the board perspective about how the coronavirus crisis has increased flexibility. The buzzword for 2019 was agile and nimble, but with constraints to physically bring people around the table 12 times a year, it was hard for boards to be adaptive. COVID-19 has been a driver for increasing the engagement between board and management with more people working together to navigate the range of issues. At present, Susan is seeing real agility with daily online briefings and virtual board meetings. She stressed the need of leadership communicating regularly about what they know and what they don’t know with consistent, honest messaging to key stakeholders.  

Conversely, this uncertainty has presented significant strategic planning challenges as most conversations presently focus on the immediate, short term. Susan has observed that most organisations only hold annual or twice a year planning dates to review and set forecasts. This, she stressed, is not enough to stay tactical given the ever-changing business conditions that are arising from this pandemic. As with regular communication to stakeholders, it is important to also review internal forecasts regularly and discuss the changing needs of your organisation. 

Susan’s’ other passion in life is mentoring – both receiving advice and helping others to help achieve their goals. She is an Executive Mentor with the @McCarthy Mentoring Program and spoke about how mentoring has positively impacted her life. As a director with L plates, she sought out the feedback of her chairperson about her performance and contributions. She received practical, actionable feedback through this informal mentoring relationship, giving her strategies about how she can increase her capacity.  

Having a mentor gives you the space to reflect on what you really want to do and gives you the focus you need to drive your goals. Susan encourages her mentees to develop a 5-year career plan about what they really want to achieve, what skills they aim to increase and the opportunities you want to seek out. They find having this independent party to give advice and an unbiased opinion helps them to define the specific hopes and goals and her regular contact to check in with the mentees drives their progress.  

Applications are open for our Executive Coaching and Mentoring program delivered in partnership with McCarthy Mentoring. It’s a unique professional development opportunity to work one-on-one with a carefully selected mentor or coach outside of your organisation. 

This program includes: 

If you would like more information or to apply, please email mail@wibf.org.au 

Thank you, Susan, for sharing your insights with us, it was an enlightening discussion. Listen to the full recording on the Members Dashboard and register for our upcoming events and webinars