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Thank you to the 1,400 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions!
I hope reading

7 Questions with Ian Smythe

helps you in your leadership.



Jonno White

7 Questions with Ian Smythe

Name: Ian Smythe

Current title: Director Education and Training

Current organisation: Tafe Queensland

Over his professional career Ian has successfully demonstrated a leadership capacity in a variety of positions and diverse contexts. His experience has straddled the demanding world of sports entertainment, as well as the challenging roles involved in business, sales and marketing, consultancy and public education, training and workforce planning always delivering outcomes in an accountable, responsible and financially viable manner. He is currently the Director of Education and Training at TAFE Queensland North. The establishment of sound strategy, empowering staff and building cohesive teams is a critical element to the success of the role.
Ian has also recently acted as General Manager at TAFE Queensland North and as the Chief Information Officer for TAFE Queensland. In his current role his leadership focus is on the creation of a single cohesive education and training organization, delivering efficiencies and capitalizing on TAFE QLD’s reach but at the same time delivering the training that each and every community requires. Engaging with networks and communities has been critical in achieving the outcomes embedded within the diverse roles he has successfully completed

Prior to taking up the position as Director of Education and Training he led and managed the delivery of training in the Health Care Industries across North and Far North Queensland. The accreditation by AHPRA of TAFE Queensland North to deliver clinical training in indigenous community health facilities was a critical initiative from this time.
Ian commenced his career with TAFE as the Director of Sales and Marketing at TAFE Queensland South West, located in Ipswich and Toowoomba, providing strategic direction across the functions of Branding, Sales, Marketing, Contracts, Customer Service, Communications, Public Relations, Call Centre, Business Development and Partnerships.
Until 2013, he was the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian National Basketball League Club, the Townsville Crocodiles, where he held that position for 7 years. The Townsville Crocodiles were regarded as one of the most professional and commercially successful National Basketball League (NBL) clubs and had extensive partnerships with industry, community and with government. The club and team boasted community development programs and membership programs that not only consistently engaged the supporters but also fostered a strong sense of loyalty between the members and the organisation. During this time he chaired the NBL Club’s Management Group and sat on the inaugural NBL Commission.
As Chair of Study Townsville, in conjunction with Study Queensland and working with Study Townsville members, he has delivered a dynamic and locally responsive strategy for the international educational institutions and businesses In Townsville that targets increased engagement with International students. This has involved the creation of a comprehensive branding strategy, media engagement strategies, familiarization week for agents and the production of collateral to support our increased focus on the Chinese and Asian markets.
He has up until recently also operated a small consultancy business, Ian Smythe Consulting. This business provided organizational review, training and strategic review, and recommendations for the performance improvement for small to medium enterprises. While there are some key strategies and processes that are applied to all businesses, each and every consultancy Ian undertook was tailor-made to suit the demands of the organisation he was partnering with. Notably he has done work for the North Queensland Cowboys, Netball Queensland and the Queensland Firebirds .

Previously he spent 25 years in secondary educational leadership positions with achievements as a Principal in strategic and operational planning, change management and school improvement.
His professional achievements have been characterised by a desire to embrace challenges and to deliver timely outcomes that have resulted in organisational change, improvement and success as well as personal and professional development. Ian’s desire to grow and develop has resulted in him pursuing opportunities within the organisations he has worked. He has always been in positions of accountability that have required, effective change management skills, strategic planning competencies, leadership and management skills applied effectively with people, projects and performance

7 Questions with Ian Smythe


1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?

It is often easy to get caught up in the business and you end up working in the business rather than on the business. We often talk about developing strategy and plans but do we have faith that they will deliver. I sense that sometimes they are just a document we refer to and not what you focus on in your business. I am certainly not suggesting that it is not important to spend some time understanding what happens and getting down amongst the day to day operations but it can be consuming. You end up losing focus of the overarching strategy and get bound to constantly checking the data in different ways to see if it delivers a different outcome. If you have set up your strategy give it some time to work and have faith in your team.

2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?

My teaching career led me to school leadership and administration. I have always challenged myself and believed that education was a great building block for senior executive roles and leadership. I also believe that we need to reinvent ourselves every 5 to 7 years to keep that passion bubbling away. I was given the opportunity with a professional basketball side in the NBL and embraced the role. I have always believed that if you do what you do well, opportunities present.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I try to start the day with exercise and I am at my best when this happens. I have one diary and I try to schedule the day both professionally and personally here. I don't get hung up on people knowing I have personal appointments and catch up with friends regularly. I allow time between meetings and always schedule prep time. Flexibility is important but it is not about work life balance, rather sometimes things just come up. I am at my best in the morning and schedule creative thinking time around this. Afternoon is when I do reports, emails and follow up. When I go home I try not to take work but always do calls(handsfree) to and from work and emails when I am on technology. Evenings are to unwind. Early to bed.

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

Whether you call it siloing or swimming in your lane there is nothing more counter productive than keeping people apart and not having the authentic conversations across teams. Sharing the executive responsibilities(not accountabilities) and talking across portfolios and directorates yields amazing results. Leaders who get hung up on keeping people in narrow lanes and small ponds because it is easy to manage are missing the power of the broader team.

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?

There are many books that have had a profound impact. I believe you need to read in three categories. You need to read books that help you understand yourself, the good , the bad and the ugly. You need to understand where you are starting from.
You need to read books that build your intellect and individual skill base. There are skills that as you grow as a leader you will identify you need. You need to read books written by people who are experts in their field and have done this leadership thing.
If I had to choose one it would be Leading Change, John P Kotter. While the model was great and I refer to it often, the emphasis on the key role the people play in successful change resonates with me every day.

6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?

Leadership is not about the curriculum, it is about the opportunity. While some will naturally rise up, density is important. I have some principles rather than a formula.
We all try to systemise our strategy and in the development of the system often the intent and flexibility is lost.
Start with the individual and give them a chance to understand what their starting point is. Journeys vary in length and direction.
Leadership is demonstrated at every level so be inclusive with your planning and your development opportunities.
Sometimes you have to work with the cattle you have so one size does not fit all.
Feedback has to be honest so communication is critical. Don't avoid a challenging conversation with an expedient option.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?

Not a story, rather a lesson. Getting the strategy, the milestones, targets and the health of the business right will deliver better long term results than constantly micro managing the numbers as they rise and fall.

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