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7 Questions on Leadership with Dr David Cooke

Name: Dr David Cooke

Title: Executive Director

Organisation: ESG Advisory

I founded ESG Advisory, following a long corporate career in the tech sector, in order to assist organisations develop more responsbible business practices. Focus areas include employee wellbeing, ethical executive decision making, ethical sourcing and business & human rights.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope David's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

It appears to me that there are two aspects to leadership decisions. One is making the right decision and secondly implementing that decision effectively. I have found the first to be greatly aided by always following my moral compass when making decisions, however, there have still be times when implementing 'the right' decision has been challenging. Redundancies within a business that is rapidly changing is one such example. Taking a person's job away is never easy.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Firstly I would like to make the point that I don't necessarily equate the title of leader with the most senior people in the organisational chart. Leadership qualities can be found being exhibited by people across many roles in life. My career was a corporate one however and as a quietly spoken person, more intoverted than extroverted, I was overlooked for a number of more senior roles that I applied for. Over those years however, someone would always eventually see something in me that they regarded as leadership characteristics. This ultimatly resulted in my appointment as the Australian managing director of a global technology firm.

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

I have never been someone who rises at 5.00am, runs 10 kms then heads to work. I do however, practice meditation each day and have done so for over 50 years. In corporate life I worked long hours, with the role involving dinners or events most evenings. I was on the corporate treadmill. Looking back I believe I would have been more effective if I had maintained more balance between work, rest and exercise. Sometimes less is more.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

I am an advocate of speaking up when you see something that isnt right. This may be harrassment or bullying in the work place or discrimination of some kind. I was discussing this with a friend recently and said that we need more people to speak up if we are going to have better workplaces for people and a better society. She reminded me that I am someone of privilege and to some degree power and it is a very different proposition for someone deciding to speak up or not when they are in a more junior position or perhaps early in their career and still gaining confidence.

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?

'Quiet.The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking' by Susan Cain has sold over 4 million copies and I found it full of wisdom. The main impact on me was to accept that I could be myself as a corporate leader. I didnt have to conform to standard leadership profiles of being the person who stood out the most orseemed to be the strongest in the team.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Be yourself. Find your purpose and lead an authentic life. My favourite quote is from author Mark Twain. He said "The two most important days of your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why."

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

We were very committed to making a difference in society and one way we did this was through not-for-profit partnership, including a local Cambodian charity working working in child protection. One day I invited everyone who had worked in our company for 25 years of more to come to Sydney and I took them out to dinner to say thank you for their commitment. At the end of the dinner one man asked if he could say something and stood up in the middle of the restaurant and said, "For over 25 years I never told anyone where I worked, I didnt see any point, it was just a job I went to each day. Now I tell everyone I meet that I work for Konica Minolta as I feel so proud to work for a company that would care about young women, on the other side of the world, who had been trafficked into a life of sexual slavery.'

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