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7 Questions with Heath Ducker
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7 Questions with Heath Ducker
Name: Heath Ducker
Current title: Principal
Current organisation: Verreaux & Company
Heath is a lived experience advocate for the underprivileged in Australia. His own Dickensian story of disadvantage and abuse appeared in Australian Story (2006) introduced by Prime Minister John Howard. In 2009, Heath's autobiography was published by Penguin Random House Australia forwarded by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Alongside his advocacy career, Heath has served as a Lawyer for a leading Australian law firm, Advisor to the NSW Attorney General and transformative CEO of 'Youth Insearch' a national charity. Taking over in the midst of a crisis, Heath reengaged stakeholders to rebuild the organisation growing revenues 225% and employee engagement to 92% - 16% higher than the industry average - winning Best Workplace 2019.
Heath is the recipient of the Davos Australian Leadership Award 2009 presented by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. He was also listed as one of Australia’s Top 50 Emerging Leaders by Start-Up Daily Magazine and was a finalist in the BOSS Magazine/Sydney University, Emerging Leaders Award. During university, he led treks across the Kokoda Track for Adventure Kokoda. Heath is a professional public speaker and a strong advocate for social justice within the political arena.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
The most challenging aspect of my role was managing the multiple demands on my time. From risk and compliance and balance sheet management, to personnel management and resolving conflicts and external affairs, to ensuring strategic alignment and implementing major change projects. The constancy of ensuring I was connected to all forces shaping the organisation, leveraging those strategically, and alive to any issues in the organisation was the greatest challenge. In my current role, having established a consultancy, it is balancing business development with completion of current projects.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
My first role as CEO of a large charity came after a well established career in law and policy. This was unique in that I had actually been a participant in the charity's programs as a teenager. I had just finished up as a Ministerial Advisor in the NSW Government, as the Government had lost the election. This organisation approached me as it was going through a transition period and they wanted an authentic leader that deeply understood their culture and programs, could navigate their relationships with government and NGOs, and rebuild their governance and compliance frameworks. I was passionate about their work as it had changed my life, and so I agreed to take on the role.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
In my experience success comes through preparation. I take the time at the start of the week and each night to reflect and plan out my week and each day to ensure I am well prepared for all meetings and tasks. If I am oversubscribed, I will move the meeting or task to a time when I can give it my full attention. I also divide my days into relative task groups - clustering email checking, meetings, tasks etc. together. This enables me to get into flow around task type and avoiding multitasking. I allocate specific time for calls and general unstructured conversations with the people around me as well which keeps me grounded and connected.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
That recognising people for their excellent performance is the single most effective tool at a leader’s disposal. People are only paid for acceptable performance. As a leader, if you would like your people to perform at higher levels you need to give them something for it in return. That is recognition. People will work harder and perform better in order to be recognised.
Also, strategic long term success is related more to how smaller successes are achieved, rather than the successes themselves. That requires paying attention to how you get results. Can you explain your actions through your core values? Did you empower people rather than direct them to do things? If you do things in a way that reflects your values, you get a deeper sense of cohesion and engagement over the longer term, rather than taking the shortest, most cost effective path in the shorter term. The result is stronger financial performance and a more strategic and resilient organisation over the longer term.
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?
Recently, it's been Professor Carol Dweck's, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success". Emotional intelligence, the ability to self manage, and be adaptable to the circumstances at hand, is the 'sine qua non' of leadership. Professor Dweck's book provides a practical framework for managing all challenges through the perspective of a 'growth mindset', which is central to being able to translate challenges and perceived failures, with individual or team or strategic performance, into opportunities for growth and innovation, driving teams and your organisation to greater success.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
The most important thing is probably a culture that supports leadership development. This includes a strong feedback culture that enables people at all levels to speak up and contribute to the organization's strategic plan, vision and goals. By involving people at all levels, you are by default identifying leadership potential, and cultivating that at a grass roots level. Having laid this fertile ground, you need a system that constantly builds and elevates this talent. In our organisation, we set up a structured coaching and development program that captured people's aspirations, identified career opportunities, and planned a path to get them there.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
When I took over as CEO of Youth Insearch, a 30 year old national youth charity, I took over in the midst of a crisis. I had to act fast making a series of strategic decisions including temporarily winding back operations to protect against insolvency and enabling me to ‘walk the floor’ and implement a communications plan addressing the allegations and charting an immediate way forward. Having protected key relationships, I set about bringing stakeholders together to collaborate on a new vision for the organisation and strategic plan. Alongside this, I restructured the organisation making key hires, and re-operationalizing our programs and services. As a young 29 year old new CEO, I worked closely with the Board and new hires to rapidly recover and rebuild the organisation across three states growing it to deliver over 3,000 instances of support across 237 communities today. This is meaningful as it taught me that leadership is not about me. Without the new Board and expertise I brought in, I could not have turned the organisation around. It taught me humility and affirmed that my role as a leader is to foster the talent and maximise the cohesion between the team that collectively will enable success.