“Perfectionism is our biggest weakness” Ian Pollard tells Leadership Seminar

One of our greatest collective weaknesses is a strive for perfectionism and imposing that on others, pioneering actuary and Rhodes Scholar Ian Pollard told delegates at the Institute’s Leadership Development Seminar on Monday (8 August).

The half-day event played host to senior actuarial and industry leaders who shared lessons from their leadership journeys.

Delegates were welcomed by the Actuaries Institute’s Leadership and Career Development Committee Convenor, Louise Campbell, and the Seminar was facilitated by Senior Vice President, Jenny Lyon.

Ian Pollard, who has been a director of more than 30 companies (currently Billabong International and life reinsurer RGA Australia) and Trevor Matthews, current non-executive director of AMP, CoverMore and Bupa Australia and New Zealand were interviewed by Mercer Chair Jan Swinhoe.

Ian found he was good at teaching himself at university, and so didn’t learn until later in his career how important collaborating with others was to success in business and learning itself.

“You can only go so far on your own,” he said, adding that “perfectionism, and imposing that on others, is one of our greatest collective weaknesses”.

“Part of leadership is to know what matters, make sure those things are properly resourced and thought through, but then to recognise that there are a whole range of other things where you just have to get them done as effectively as you can, and move on.”

Trevor Matthews spoke of the overwhelming feeling he had as a 36-year old leader at Legal and General, and the importance of genuinely caring about staff.

“The livelihood of those people and their families depended on me and my team…but it worked because I really did care, I really did pay a lot of attention to the big issues and try and work out what they were,” he said.


Know your vision, and back yourself

Keynote speaker Marguerite Ryan emphasised the importance of passion when sharing her (unintended) journey to leading a charity she cofounded called ‘Women for Women in Africa‘ (WFWIA). WFWIA is helping to educate under-privileged children from the Kibera slum in Nairobi.

Keynote speaker Marguerite Ryan


“It hasn’t been an easy journey…we started out in a little room, then we moved to containers,” said Marguerite, adding that their purpose was clear because “Kenya cannotsurvive without education”.

Delegates also heard from Jocelyn Furlan, a director and former Chairperson of the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal for eight years. Her presentation focused on the importance of knowing and aligning everything to your vision, being authentic and practising positive self-talk, in the mirror if you have to.

catlion“Cherish what makes you uncomfortable, it’s your greatest opportunity to learn. Some skills will always be learned, never innate,”  said Jocelyn, going onto share her own vision and gripes with the superannuation industry in Australia. 

“Most people interact with their super at a time of trauma. The industry needs a lens in its call centres that recognises that,” she said.

“I behave in a way that puts the customer first and the empowerment of the Australian community because that’s what my vision is.”

Suzanne Smith, General Manager Group Insurance at MLC, outlined her four career paths: prior to joining NAB’s Wealth business she held senior positions at ANZ, helped establish a boutique global hedge fund, worked as a Commercial Property Valuer for five years and also trained as a registered nurse.

“Having the courage to try something new is key to successful leadership,” said Suzanne.

“The ability to be OK with discomfort and the fact that you don’t know all the answers is important. You should be aiming for roles that make you feel comfortably uncomfortable,” she said.

11 ‘design thinking’ mindsets

Dr Jochen Schweitzer, Director of the MBA Entrepreneurship at UTS next gave a presentation on disruptive leadership and innovation.

Jochen outlined 11 ‘design thinking mindsets’:

1. Empathetic – walk in someone’s shoes to really understand where that shoe hurts
2. Collaborative – embrace diverse perspectives, not just the ones you know will help you
3. Inquisitive – curious and open to new perspectives: what is it you don’t know? 
4. Mindful – of process and thinking modes
5. Experiential intelligence – know when it’s time to experiment
6. Take Action – deliberately and overtly, rather than overthinking 
7. Consciously Creative
8. Open to Risk – accepting of uncertainty
9. Modelling Behaviour – something actuaries understand
10. Desire to make a Difference -determined to effect change
11. Critically Questioning 
11 deisgn thinking mindsets
A calculated approach to risk, experimenting and modelling behaviour are all foundations of actuarial skills, said Jochen -thoughts echoed by IAG General Manager Ron Arnold in his ‘7 E’s of Innovation’ presentation.
 “Innovative leadership mindsets and behaviours are lived rather than articulated in organisations,” Jochen said.  
“What you do as a leader is what matters most. We see most of the (11) mindsets in practice, but not all at the same time.”
The final speaker of the day was John Walsh AM, actuary to the NSW Lifetime Care and Support Authority and Deputy Chair of the National Health Performance Authority. John emphasised his passion for and faith in younger generations to understand the stories of the “people behind the data” and affect positive change in the industry.

He described sending young actuaries on his team to assess disabled people’s needs, so they knew what the data they’re working with means in the “real world”.

John urged actuaries to” be comfortable with the best data you’ve got” and use that to run models; to get more and better data

“Once you know your stuff, commit and be courageous,” he said, holding up his 1985 diagram of the NDIS structure.

One of the delegates at the Seminar, Chris Scheuber, reflects on his key takeaway learnings here.

View Presentation Slides from the 2016 Leadership Development Seminar.

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