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7 Questions with Michelle Blicavs
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with Michelle Blicavs
Name: Michelle Blicavs
Current title: CEO
Current organisation: Association of Consulting Surveyors
As an Association CEO, I support my members to achieve success in their businesses. We focus on advocacy and business leadership support as well as providing events, training and education. I personally also provide business coaching to professionals who are experts at their practice, but struggle with the business of managing people and profit - and often have no idea about marketing. I am also the Chair of the Top Blokes Foundation, married for almost 32 years with two children 20 and 18, living in north west Sydney.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
With more than 400 member firms, the challenge is staying on top of what is happening across the country. It is also a challenge to represent large and small firms knowing their needs are quite varied. Like most, having the resources and time to meet the demands of each day - particularly during the pandemic - is challenging
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
My first job was in a jewellery store. I look back with amazing insight that the customer service I learned there would set me up to become the CEO I am today. Recognising that every person is important, not just those who buy diamonds!
From jewellery I moved into buses and learned my financial management and operational management skills. Managing a fleet of 100 buses and drivers on shifts across the day and night and transporting more than 8,000 passengers every day was a great learning environment.
It was here I reached my first management roles and after 10 years was promoted to General Manager, a role I held for 5 more years before we sold the company.
I moved into a not-for-profit senior management role whilst my kids were young - a bit of a backward step in my career as many women do. During this time I finished my Masters Degree in Management and then applied for my first CEO position.
5 years with my first Member Association provided me a great learning curve for dealing with my first national and international reach and helped me understand the impact my leadership could have on a whole industry.
I have been with the Association of Consulting Surveyors for 4 years now and we've had some great wins, particularly in the advocacy and education space. But all because of my early days in a shop, where I learned to listen to the one and focus on meeting the needs of the most important people - my customers, now my members.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Pre and Post Covid slightly differently! During "usual" working days it is quite varied. As CEO for a national association I travel quite a bit so no two days are the same. But generally speaking:
I am happy to confess the first thing I do is reach for my phone! Usually about 7am, check the news and see what's happened overnight in the rest of the world... Catch up on any late or early emails - and then the all important social media catch up, particularly LinkedIn. I check my calendar, which I likely checked before going to sleep, to be sure I know what meetings are on today. Then if I'm up early enough I might read for 15-20 minutes. If I'm working from home, or don't have any early meetings, I'll often head out for a 45-60 minute walk.
The usual 9-5 meetings, zoom calls, coffee meetings and lunches or an event or training session. Some days a coaching day - really every day is different. But all my days include my members and staff and often advocacy on a current issue.
In the afternoon, I'll head out for another walk and catch up on the latest podcasts. Cook dinner and then relax in front of Netflix or other with my husband to wind down for the night.
Usually in bed by 10pm, read some more, turn on DND on my phone, check my calendar for tomorrow and try to get 8 hours sleep ready for the day ahead!
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Solve the problem. So many leaders try to delegate everything and keep the cream of the work for themselves. I think true leaders take action and get in with their team to solve the current problem.
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?
Just one! How about this year :) The most impactful book this year has been Seth Godin's "The Practice". About stepping out and stepping up and taking action. Don't wait for things to be perfect - start now...
"Love what you do is the mantra for professionals". So many people complain about their jobs or their career or their workplace, boss, leaders, customers, staff - everyone! We all have leaders, even leaders have leaders. But true professionals are passionate about what they do and they live and breathe it.
"We make a difference in the world when we seek to make a difference." True leaders are trying to make the world a better place - maybe not the whole world but at least the part you can impact - and we can all make an impact.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
Capacity comes from saying "yes". Today we're all encouraged to put up boundaries and protect our time and not spread ourselves too thin. I fear this means that people are not being challenged to step out of their comfort zone and try new things, or learn new skills.
Building leadership capacity requires our teams to be challenged, to be stretched and to occasionally be thrown in the deep end! That's the only way we build true capacity.
You don't know you can do it until you try! Take the risk, take the leap, give it a try. Learn through failure. Support your team when they take risks and don't give them a hard time when they fail. I find most of the time they beat themselves up enough for failing and don't need you to pile on. Encourage them to learn from this one and you'll find they don't make that same mistake again.
And their capacity will have grown.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
I have the privilege and pleasure of working for a Board of Directors. Usually when you work for a Board the strategy and vision of the Board and the CEO are aligned. But I've experienced when the two did not align.
A CEO cannot lead effectively if the Board or others are not following. And if the two are not aligned then there is significant disharmony within the organisation.
In my industry, Boards can change every year, and I've seen CEO's stick it out at an organisation just waiting for the Board to change. Not me. I would rather step aside and let the Board find a more suitable CEO for the current direction.
This was certainly the case with my previous role. The Board decided to take the organisation in a direction I felt was against my desires and own skill set. And so I stepped aside.
I think as CEOs we get so entangled and entwined with the organisations we lead we forget that the organisation was here before us and will be here after we've moved on... Whilst you are the CEO, lead with passion, take action and leave a legacy. But leave with grace and ensure the organisation continues to succeed whilst you move on to greener pastures.