Why vulnerability is essential to good leadership
December 6, 2019
Newly promoted managing director, Mark, joined Accenture as part of an acquisition. Initially on top of the world, he didn’t expect to experience a personal crisis just 6 months later. How he overcame it and what he learnt dramatically altered the way he approaches leadership and working with his clients.
It’s been three years since I arrived at Accenture through the acquisition of Redcore. A decade before the acquisition, I had joined Redcore (a start-up at the time) as its fourth ever employee! Over ten years, the company grew to be a major security services player in the APAC region.
When Redcore was acquired, I didn’t know a lot about the inner workings of Accenture. So, it’s fair to say I was a little reserved going in. In hindsight, I realise the experience was transformational from the get-go. At the time, it was challenging to keep the team focused and engaged as we went from small to huge. It was the first time I – and many of my colleagues – had been part of a truly global team. Most big organisations aren’t truly global – they’re more of a franchise model. At Accenture, we often collaborate with teams in the US and Europe and leverage each other’s intellectual property.
Celebrating with my Accenture colleagues at our annual end-of-year event
One of the great things about Accenture is that they truly believe in developing their people. Six months into my time with the firm, I flew up to Sydney to attend a leadership program. But what should have been an invigorating learning experience was soured by my own exhaustion. I remember sitting in a café outside the office suffering from crushing imposter syndrome and experiencing an anxiety attack. Between client work and managing my team through an acquisition, I was completely overwhelmed. At one point, I just sat on the floor and just watched people go by. All I could think was: “I’m not cut out for this.” It took all my strength to get up and head back to the office.
I only found relief through sharing my story. I was encouraged to do so by one of the managing directors leading the program, who had themselves opened up to the group about their leadership journey. In that moment I was aware I could go two ways: continue not trusting myself; or flip it and allow myself to be vulnerable in the moment. So, I stood up and told the truth: that I didn’t know if I was made for Accenture. It was raw and scary. But then, one by one, other people opened up about their individual journeys too. To my surprise, I was not alone and everyone was so supportive.
Building bikes for kids in need with Accenture colleagues
That was the pivotal moment. Ever since then, I’ve not been afraid to be vulnerable. In fact, that’s where I go first. I now understand vulnerability is the place I have to start – with myself, my clients and my team – to build strength and resilience through trust.
It’s important in my line of work as well, because that’s exactly what we do in cyber security. At its essence, cyber security is not just about technology and cool tools – it’s about people. We help our clients find their vulnerabilities. We work with them on strategy and plan to build strength around those vulnerabilities, so that they can be resilient and establish a charter of trust with their customers.
It’s also how I am as a leader. To me, it’s all about personalising my support based on what people need. I spend a lot of time listening, working out people’s strengths and then coaching them around the areas they can improve. I think about what people want out of life and how I can help them get there and explore the ways Accenture can provide a platform for it.
With my wife, Maggie, a constant source
of inspiration for me.
I like to build teams to succeed with autonomy. By getting the right people, with the right strengths, in the right positions – don’t put a defender in a striker’s position! I aim to make myself a redundant member of the team quickly. I don’t want to be a bottle neck or have people depend on my instructions.
When I’m not working with my teams and clients, I go home to three awesome people who inspire me and teach me new things every day. My kids Matilda (10) and Reuben (7) are super-creative. We paint together, they act – Matilda’s in a short film coming out soon and they’ve both been in commercials. Their little lives are full on!
Spending time with my kids
Maggie, my wife, is an amazing person who not only gets the kids to all their rehearsals and makes everything work, she also runs a business advocating for people with disabilities. Sometimes I get home and she’s fallen asleep on the couch from exhaustion.
Yoga in the mornings gets me through every day. It’s going to be interesting to see how it gets me through this next chapter as a Managing Director. I don’t want to under-estimate how big a move this sort of promotion will be in a company of this size. What I am looking forward to the most is the opportunity help our people grow as individuals, whatever way that may be, and ensure that all our people know being vulnerable is okay.