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7 Questions on Leadership with Paula Holden

Name: Paula Holden

Title: Chief People Officer

Organisation: C and K

As a practiced Senior Executive on both sides of the Board table, Paula has led teams big and small. Paula is fueled by passion for helping others find their spark and has 'grown up' in the People and Culture profession. Throughout her career Paula has worked across for profit and for purpose organisations ranging form mining to community organisations. In her spare time, you'll find Paula leading a group fitness class or enjoying some time playing 'mum's taxi' for her two children.

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

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


Jonno White

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

The hardest thing about Leadership is that you only get better by practicing it and to practice it you need to be vulnerable with other people. Being challenged to grow in public can be hard sometimes but yields the biggest rewards.

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

I have always loved people and interacting with them has been a natural part of who I am. I have often thought leadership is an act rather than a role, although it can cache both spheres. When I was younger, my parents and others always commented that I was a natural leader. Even in school I held leadership positions. I don't really recall 'becoming' a leader, I guess it was something that snuck up on me.

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

I get up early and start by making my bed. There is a great speech by Admiral William McRaven who tells a great story about goal setting and making your bed. Making my bed is the routine frames my day and gets me on the path for the gym. After that my day is run by my Exec Assistant. I'm in her capable hands. At night I enjoy a meal with family and unwind in front of some mind-numbing TV or watching teh sun set and reflecting on the day.

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

Balance is important. In today's hybrid work environments, learning to walk away at the end of the day is important. Monitor your health because as the saying goes, you cant put the oxygen mask on others if you aren't breathing. Leading by example sets the tone for what others expect.

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?

Leadership on the line-staying alive by Heifetz and Linksy. It's one of the first leadership books I ever read, but it’s one that has stayed with me over the years. The authors’ distinction between technical work, which involves applying known solutions to problems, and adaptive work, which is the task of helping people with problems learn how to solve them. Discerning which type of work is applicable to the present situation is one of the most important roles of leaders in organizations. Being on the balcony and the dance floor in right measures is another take away.

The book offers practical advice on surviving the perils of leadership, such as avoiding being the “indispensable man” and instead handing work back to people when they are best equipped to do it.

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

Say yes and work out how later. Don't be scared to try.

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

Having helped a previous worker through some serious work related injuries some 20+years ago, I heard from them about a year ago and how well they had turned their life around. They attributed the start of their turn around to a conversation we had. One that I barely remembering being important. This resonates as you never know how far your words can carry someone. Being a leader is rewarding and challenging in equal measures.

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