Leadership: Have vision, be confident

Deidre Willmott

While Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA CEO Deidre Willmott has worked with some amazing leaders in government and the private sector throughout her career, she’s developed her own style along the way.

“I would say that what I have learnt is that a leader has to have a vision. They have to articulate where they want an organisation to go and they need to live that vision every day,” she says.

“Firstly, they need to be confident that it’s an important vision to deliver and secondly that it can be delivered…”

“I’ve also learnt that in being focused on that vision, sometimes other people aren’t as committed and generally those people will get left behind. In order to maintain the momentum that keeps everyone else involved, if people aren’t committed to it, they won’t make the journey.”

“They really need to encourage the people around them to work harder towards delivering that vision than perhaps they would have imagined.

When Deidre accepted the offer to become Richard Court’s chief of staff in 1999, she asked him what he wanted to be remembered for as premier. He replied, “Selling North West Shelf gas to China”.

“He talked about the opportunity and the need to open up China as a market for our LNG almost every day as premier to the extent where people were saying to me ‘for goodness sake, tell him to stop talking about LNG to China’. It didn’t happen when he was premier.

“It did happen when Geoff Gallop was premier and the first person Geoff rang was Richard. Geoff recognised that it was Richard who had set up that vision and done all the early work to get that to happen.”

Deidre says Ron Walker, chair of the 2006 Commonwealth Games, was ‘extraordinary’ to work with between 2003-06, when she was general manager executive services for the games.

“He aimed high and really believed. He was just so determined that this was going to be the best event Melbourne had ever hosted. He set out to deliver and was never going to accept anything less than that from anyone on the team.”

While Deidre has worked alongside some powerful men, she’s passionate about advocating for gender equality: “We can never take women’s education or economic independence for granted.”

“While we’ve made a lot of progress, we’ve by no means achieved equality yet. We need to keep striving and women have a really important role to support other women.

“Madeleine Albright, the former US secretary of state, has said there is a special place in heaven for women who help other woman and there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t.

“We should encourage our young women to be bold and confident but those of us who have been in the workforce a little longer need to assess the areas where we can help women make progress.”

Deidre’s top three tips for aspiring leaders:

  • Leadership is about people. It’s often hard for people transitioning from their technical expertise to leading a team and spending time on things they’ve never worried about before. Leading people is a different experience and it’s about people.
  • Work out what you want to achieve and set short-term and long-term goals.
  • Be aware of how visible you are as a leader. I’ve watched people very carefully to see what they are really thinking about something and remember that people will do that with you. So you have to really think things through and be confident and believe in what you are saying.

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