Name: Sean Craig
Title: Co-Founder and Managing Director
Organisation: Impact Society
Sean Craig is a co-founder and the managing director of leadership startup Impact Society (https://www.impactsociety.co). Sean is an experienced executive and company director, with expertise in management and leadership, and strategy development and execution. His career has spanned early-stage start-ups to billion-dollar companies. Sean’s passion is helping organisations increase their positive impact through good strategy and employee engagement. Sean has founded and worked with organisations across industries including consulting, infrastructure, technology and hospitality. Read Sean’s articles (https://www.impactsociety.co/author/sean/) or find him on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/craigsean/).
Impact Society (https://www.impactsociety.co) helps everyday managers become great leaders who change their world. However big or small their world may be. It’s a resource that enables leaders to deliver impactful results while creating an engaging work environment for their people. It does this with practical tools, systems of work, workshops, online training, books and content. And by cultivating a warm and supportive global community.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Sean's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
It’s been balancing my humanity with a drive to deliver results for the organisations I worked for. When I first became a manager, I had a narrow focus on delivering results. I was immature and wasn’t very thoughtful about the human side of business. As I matured, I started to care more about people. And I could see how my earlier approach sometimes delivered short term outcomes at the expense of people’s engagement (including my own). I then struggled to reconcile the two, ruminating on what’s more important: people or results? I tied myself in knots for a few years, often swinging one way or the other. Until I realised that it’s not people or results. It’s both. When I stopped seeing it as a zero sum game, it became easier (if not easy) to balance the two. The reality is that employee outcomes are tied to organisational outcomes over the long term. And organisational outcomes are tied to employee outcomes over the long term. You can’t have a sustainable and thriving business, if your people aren’t healthy and engaged in their work. And you can’t look after your people well, if the business isn’t delivering on its strategic, financial and other objectives. The challenge is of course in the short term where there often often conflict between employee and organisational outcomes. That requires judgement by leaders, but I find the best place to start is to orient yourself around the long term and work backwards from there.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I joined Fremantle Ports – in a management role - in my late 20s. Prior to that, I’d worked in a few Queensland organisations, but in technical and project management roles. I was very fortunate at Fremantle Ports to be given several leadership opportunities in my 15 years there. I held different senior management roles in commercial management and corporate strategy, before being promoted to executive general management, where I spent most of my time leading the business strategy and sustainability division. I was also the interim chief executive officer for a period, which I loved. It was a great experience all around, but I really enjoyed the responsibility and autonomy that came with the CEO role. After missing out on the permanent CEO job, I decided it was the right time to pursue my lifelong dream to do something entrepreneurial, so I quit to establish and focus on Impact Society (https://www.impactsociety.co) with my co-founder, Joel Bailey.
Impact Society builds on the belief that employee and organisational outcomes depend on one another. So we’ve established Impact Society to help everyday managers become great leaders who change their world. However big or small their world may be. It will be a resource that enables leaders to deliver impactful results while creating an engaging work environment for their people. We will do this with practical tools, systems of work, workshops, online training, books and content. And by cultivating a warm and supportive global community.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
After resisting routine and structure for the first decades of my adult life, I’ve embraced it in recent years. Every workday looks similar now: I try and get a good night’s sleep every night. I get up and exercise, either a run or a short strength workout in the park, listening to a podcast or audiobook (usually either leadership or self-development related) while I do it. I write everyday (a mix of blog articles, journaling and working on a book on employee engagement), so like to do this at café, where I also review my quarterly goals and plan my day by picking the one most important thing to get done. I have a series of impact and wellbeing habits and metrics that I track every day in a spreadsheet at the same time. I then go home, shower and – all going to plan – jump straight into my one most important thing. I try to do impactful and creative work in the mornings. And more routine stuff after lunch. I do my best to avoid all but the most stimulating and impactful meetings with others, which would otherwise distract me from my most important work. I love to cook and socialise, so my ideal night is to either cook at home or walk down the street to meet friends for dinner, before going to bed at a regular time. I’m currently travelling and working on Impact Society in Europe for five months, so am pleased that I’ve managed to keep this routine in place despite moving around. After experimenting with lots of tweaks to the routine, I’ve settled into this one, which seems to best support my wellbeing and impact.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
This is a bit out of left field, but I’ve been reading a lot lately about attachment theory. It’s a well-established psychological model that has decades of research behind it. It’s used almost exclusively in the context of personal relationships to explain how and why our insecurities show up in predictable (and often unhelpful) ways. As a thought experiment, I’ve been backtesting workplace interactions through this lens and wondering if and what application it might have for leadership. For example, a common insecure attachment style is anxious attachment (which I lean towards), which essentially reflects an underlying fear of abandonment and rejection. I can see how this might drive some people to more people-pleasing (I used to be more like this), perfectionistic (I’m a recovering one) and high work drive (tick) behaviours. Of course, these can be attractive workplace attributes and they’re often rewarded (I was). But, if it’s too much or coming from a place of anxiety, it’s likely associated with burn out and an attempt to seek our boss’s approval, rather than a drive to deliver our best work, sustainably. It’s a subtle distinction, that many managers will see as one and the same, but I think there’s a profound difference between whether workers are doing something for themselves or for simply gaining someone else’s approval. Those who do it for themselves will be more fulfilled, less anxious and more energised, and more impactful over the long term. Hence, organisations that motivate people through purpose and inner-drive will always outperform those that motivate people through demanding bosses who simply reward people-pleasers. It’s just a thought at the moment, but one I’m keen to explore further.
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?
I love reading and have read hundreds of management, leadership and business books. There are several that have had a profound impact on me, but the one that keeps coming to mind is the Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. It’s so straightforward and, once I read it, I couldn’t see team dynamics in the same way again. It explains so much to me about team development and the difference between high and low (or even just average) performing teams.
It was also important on another level, in that it got me engaged with Patrick Lencioni’s writing. I’ve read all of his books and, while some grabbed me more than others, I’ve taken something important away from all of them. It also led me to make one of his books (The Advantage, which incorporates the five dysfunctions model amongst others) required reading for managers in my group at Fremantle Ports.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
See and meet your team members as humans and as a human yourself. Once we recognise that everyone is doing their best – that everyone just wants to be loved, cared for, accepted, to grow and to do their best - management becomes a lot simpler. We see that poor performance or behaviour is rarely because people are bad, but usually because they just need a hand (with skills development, guidance, support) or because they’re hurting in some way (overworked, undervalued, upset, feeling insecure etc.). Like us, most people, most of their time are trying to do the right thing. And, like us, they stuff up sometimes. In perfectly normal and human ways. Leaders that recognise this and incorporate it into their leadership philosophy will outperform managers who don’t.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I used to work with a manager that I really like, Adam. We were chatting on a Monday morning about our weekends. He told me how he’d had such a great weekend. And said it all started with the work week he’d had prior. He spoke about how great he felt to have worked towards and then nailed Friday morning’s board meeting. And to then head back to his office and nail some really meaningful stuff that he’d been working on. He’d had a big and demanding week, working long and hard, yet he went home on Friday night energised and in a good mood. He then spoke about how this set him up for a great Friday night sharing a nice meal, wine and board games with his wife and daughter; and a great weekend doing different things. And that great weekend set him up to come to work Monday morning feeling energised and enthusiastic for the work week ahead.
For me, this story captures how an engaging work experience sets us up to be better partners, parents, friends, community members etc. And that a good life outside of work sets us up to be better team members at work. It brings me back to not seeing work vs life as a zero-sum game. They can – and should – relate to each other in a positive feedback loop. It’s on us as leaders to normalise that relationship between work and life. And, when we do, the prizes for our organisations, people and society as a whole will be immense.