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7 Questions with Lydia Gentle
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7 Questions with Lydia Gentle
Name: Lydia Gentle
Current title: Manager Engineering
Current organisation: BHP
Lydia is a highly skilled and experienced Chartered Professional Engineer. Her career spans the engineering consultancy, construction and mining industries across multiple continents. Lydia is currently Engineering Manager Projects where she utilises her significant experience in project leadership to adopt innovative and collaborative approaches to engineering design and project delivery. Lydia enjoys promoting and advancing programs and policies that build and support the creation of stable and innovative engineering practices.
Lydia was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for her contribution to Engineering. Lydia also holds a Master of Engineering Science, a Bachelor of Civil Engineering and is an Engineering Executive and Fellow of Engineers Australia. Lydia is Co-chair of the National Civil College Board and also sits on the UQ Engineering Civil College Board and the Advisory Board for Top 100 Women. Lydia is also a member of the Infrastructure Advisory Committee and Professional Standards Committee for Engineers Australia, illustrating her passion to the engineering community and increasing the profile of the profession.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
The most challenging aspect of being an executive is the accelerating pace of change and rapidly changing global environments where different countries have different cultures and biases. I've had to expand my mindset on working in cross-cultural and cross-functional teams and the current climate and focus on corporate social responsibility. With the upcoming 4th industrial revolution, we need to deploy digital tools and advanced analytics to keep up with global trends.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I grew up in a small country town in far north Queensland, my parents had immigrated to Australia from Italy in the 60's and they instilled in me a very strong work ethic and expectation that I would go to university as their studies had been limited to primary school. I studied engineering at university, travelled the world and never stopped learning. I have a thirst for learning and throughout my career I've always looked for opportunities to grow and succeed
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I've always been an early riser, especially now with kids. I try to get up before anyone else so that I can start the day with yoga to ground myself and then it's school lunches, getting the kids ready before I head off to work. My day is very planned, I live by my calendar and have very strong time management skills. I'm normally in back to back meetings throughout the day. I also schedule time to catch up on emails and work tasks in the afternoon. I then try to pick the kids up most days after their school activities and then help with their homework. I'm very lucky that my husband cooks dinner every night. After dinner, it's bedtime for the kids and my husband and I get an hour or two together to connect...but sometimes work. We both have very demanding jobs and both travel a lot for work, so it's great to have a family that supports us.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
You need to be happy and then you will be successful. If you chase success first and then happiness, you'll never succeed. My team is also at 50% gender diversity which is uncommon in the engineering profession where the standard percentage of women graduating from engineering is 12%. I value inclusion and have built a team where people want to come for work and where being happy and satisfied at work is a key outcome. My Employee Perception Survey (EPS) results are above the top 25% of globally performing companies in every category, illustrating my leadership skills and can-do attitude that has seen my team consistently deliver.
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 Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work. I distilled the key messages to my team and saw an immediate change. Taking time for yourself and doing yoga or meditation is one of the principals and reflecting on this, gave me the ok to take time out for myself, as a busy parent, we all feel guilt when we do, however I saw such a positive change in myself when I started spending time and doing something just for me.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
First, you need to recruit the right people and ensure they are all on the same bus, i.e. all want to work together to succeed and understand what the key outcomes are. Then you need to understand that diversity of people, thoughts and experiences will result in a far greater outcome as people bring their whole selves to work. It's about understanding team culture, ensuring everyone is valued and identifying what everyone's key strengths are and ensuring people are developed. Development is exposure to different experiences, different teams and also formal training
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
Never take other people's perceptions for granted. Understand that everyone has different skills and talents and it's about finding the right task for the right person. As Albert Einstein said: Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.