Name: Chris Veraa
Title: Associate Vice-President, South East Queensland
Chris Veraa is an experienced senior leader with significant expertise in higher education management. Beginning his career in journalism and media relations, Chris has worked for more than a decade in the university sector where he has managed portfolios as diverse as student experience, communications, philanthropy, alumni relations and campus management. Outside of work, Chris is an experienced company director and has served on boards for a number of education sector organisations. Chris is married with four children and enjoys music, film, travel, food and being active; currently he is training for his first marathon.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Chris's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
The rise of Zoom and remote working post-pandemic has been a challenge, as I much prefer face-to-face interaction with my teams. I find it much more difficult to build trust and camaraderie, and to collaborate effectively, in a remote environment. I have tried to overcome this by ensuring good videoconferencing "hygiene", i.e. removing all distractions so that I can focus on the person or group I'm meeting with. Ushing "live" shared documents and collaboration spaces to replicate the feeling of real-time, in-person collaboration. And using platforms like Teams for occasional casual banter in lieu of the traditional water cooler conversations. It's not the same, but we have to make the best of the new normal. I'm very open to other ideas!
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was working for a government transport agency at the time, in a senior communications role. Like most leaders, I was a "practitioner" who had achieved sufficient seniority to move into a management role. This appealed to my ambition and career goals, but didn't necessarily mean I was ready to lead, and so I went through the usual teething pains of moving into a leadership role. There was no one moment where I actually "became a leader" - I'm still a work in progress and probably always will be.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I try to wake up at 5am most mornings, and start my day with a short meditation, which just involves me checking in with myself, stating the things I'm grateful for, and outlining my intentions for the day ahead. I then try to get in some exercise and/or prepare breakfast and coffee for the troops before they wake up. Once the house has risen, it's all systems go as people get off to school and work. I like to keep the first 30 minutes to 1 hour free when I arrive at work, to get across the day's news, review my to-do list, and action any urgent emails over a coffee. From there, my day is diverse - it could involve meetings (planned or impromptu), working on reports or plans or proposals, attending community events, getting firsthand feedback from students, and everything in between. When work finishes, it's back home for some family time. Normally it's dark by the time we all get home, as my kids participate in a lot of sport and cultural activities outside of school hours. During the week, the TV never goes on - it's eat, clean up, shower, homework (in no particular order) and off to bed as early as possible. On the weekends we're able to let our hair down a bit more.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
If people are deprived of opportunity, they will leave, particularly in a highly competitive job market. You can't be complacent about staff loyalty and you can't take your eye off the ball when it comes to developing your people. If you have great people, give them responsibility, space to grow, and a clear view of the path to progression.
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's not one specific book, as I try to take bits and pieces from everywhere and apply them to my leadership. However I do like practical books that use real-life case studies to demonstrate leadership in action, rather than overly theoretical or conceptual books. 'Shoe Dog' by Phil Knight (founder of Nike) is a particular favourite as it showed the need for relentless drive and constant iteration and refinement to acheive great success. A lot of the time, I prefer more spiritual or self-help books as they assist in developing calmness, inner peace, confidence and mindset, which are often far more helpful to leaders than practical "business tips".
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Be kind, empathetic, communicative and transparent; in other words, treat your people the way you would want to be treated. But don't be "soft". People like leaders who are decisive, communicate a clear vision, and provide direction, because with that kind of leadership, you'll always know where you stand. Don't confuse "giving people autonomy" with being "too hands off"; try your best to strike the right balance.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I just love seeing people that I've led in the workplace rise to leadership positions of their own. I take great pride in thinking that my guidance, advice and support (and my example) have helped to get them to this point in their career. I think it's a sign of a good leader when you can help grow the leadership ecosystem.