Thank you to the 1646 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions! I hope reading 7 Questions with
helps you in your leadership.
Name: Vivienne King
Title: Chief Operating Officer
Organisation: Airservices Australia
Vivienne King is the inaugural COO of Airservices Australia and prior to this held the role of WestGo consortium CEO working with Pacific Partners the equity providers for major infrastructure PPPs. Previously Vivienne held the CEO role for Box Hill institute in Victoria which not only provided education services but developed and managed a number of international business opportunities working with service providers and property developers.
Vivienne worked in North America and held the role of President, British Columbia Rapid Transit Company which operated and maintained the Skytrain, Airport Line and Westcoast Express Transit systems in Vancouver. Before North America Vivienne held the position of CEO for KDR Gold Coast, the operator and maintainer of the Gold Coast Light Rail and prior to that the position of Group General Manager, Strategic & Service Development for RailCorp which provided metropolitan passenger rail services in Sydney; in that role Vivienne was responsible for it’s investment strategy, future design of rail networks and $1.2b capital works program. While working with RailCorp Vivienne also held the role of Chief Operations Officer leading 15 departments with over 5000 staff to deliver the day to day passenger services.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
Changing expectations and the growing demands on leaders to deliver results, not only for the organisation but for all the stakeholders, customers and the employees who without them we could not deliver the products or services people rely upon. In addition to this, balancing the everchanging legislation and recommendations resulting from royal commissions and the need to protect individual rights and the environment.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Truthfully, accidentally! I was one who always took the risky roles and fell into project management which takes a great deal of influencing, managing activities and people to be aligned with tight timelines and budgets. I quickly learnt I couldn't deliver without the help of the team and their expertise. Directing people doesn't work in the long term you have to win their hearts along with their minds and so to lead, guide, support and influence behaviour along with motivating became something I needed to perfect and hence found myself in more and more leadership roles
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Alarm at 6:30am, greet my husband, pat my dog, feed him, make coffee, review first batch of emails and then a hot shower, three times a week a reformer pilates session and then either go to the office or walk to my home office to start the day, it's now approx 8:30am. The day is made up of many meetings, document review, providing guidance to the team helping them with issues or celebrating successes.
My briefs are broad and so one day is never the same as another. My work day finishes around 6:30pm, unless there is some major demand or delivery the team needs to achieve and then the days can be quite long. I try to cook the main meal of the day and enjoy that with my husband. Then after dinner a nice walk with the dog to clear my mind. In the evening I will often review documents for the next day, read something I enjoy and try to be in bed before 11pm. I find this works well and gives me balance. I have learnt to protect the weekends to relax, reboot and give time to the important people in my life. It has taken decades to land on this balance.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
If a leader is honest with themselves, they are always learning or being reminded of something to be mindful of. One I have recently been reminded of was how to balance your performance when you have to work with someone that doesn't manage people very well and hence rubs you in a way that doesn't bring out the best in you. Sometimes you can't change the situation no matter how hard you try and I have always said if you can affect the situation then do, but if you can't, you can always vote with your feet. Too often people stay in an environment that is harmful to them and gathering the strength to make a move can be challenging.
I have recently helped someone work through this exact situation, difficult as it was, they were able to make the right decision and have now established themselves in a more positive environment. My advice to anyone, even myself, is ensure you stay professional and continue to deliver while you are working through this, seek advice and support from a trusted individual but never ever stay somewhere that doesn't give you the satisfaction, respect or development you deserve.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
The five dysfunctions of Teams by Lencioni, in summary it explains how teams either are or become dysfunctional. You would think these five elements are obvious, well they are but people often don't deal with them in a co-ordinated and effective way, the elements are Absence of trust: Teams who lack trust conceal weaknesses and mistakes, hesitate to ask for help, and doubt the intentions of others.
Fear of conflict: Teams who fear conflict avoid honest and constructive debate, seek artificial harmony, and suppress opinions and feelings.
Lack of commitment: Teams who lack commitment do not buy-in to group decisions, create ambiguity and confusion, and fear failure.
Avoidance of accountability: Teams who avoid accountability do not hold each other accountable, tolerate low standards and mediocrity, and resent feedback and pressure.
Inattention to results: Teams who are inattentive to results focus on personal agendas, lose sight of the collective goals, and become complacent and stagnant. Lencioni not only helps you understand the behaviours but does it in a way you can provide the book to your leadership team, work through the management fable it provides and then draw comparisons without it being confrontation in nature. You can then work through each of the elements together gaining understanding and support.
It provides a very useful framework which prompts open and clear discussions. I have since read every book he has published on management and leadership, his style and approach has helped me question my approach, fine tune it and continue my personal growth.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Never forget people won't remember what you said but they will always remember how you made them feel. Honesty, respect and clarity in communication is what you need to focus on as you lead your team.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I recently met up with two of my past managers and they helped me remember how I had fought for their development, supported their growth and provided opportunity that others wouldn't provide them. I had forgotten these activities as I saw them as my job at the time. Because of my actions these people had more leverage and went on to wonderful careers. So my story is don't ever underestimate the littlest of things as they can affect others for years to come. As a leader your words mean so much more at times then you might acknowledge, be aware of this and know that people will take your words to heart not just process them.