In this Best of Series episode, we hear from Greg Steele, Global President of Arcadis Mobility, on the importance of broad experience, bringing people with you and dealing with difficult issues.
We interviewed Greg in late 2017 when he was the CEO of the Asia Pacific business of Arcadis, one of the world’s largest professional service consultancy firms with over 28,000 people in 70 countries.
Greg has nearly 40 years’ experience as an engineer and manager, having been involved at a leadership level for some of Australia’s largest and most complex infrastructure projects.
He is also the Chair of Engineering Aid Australia, a not for profit organisation which strives to inspire indigenous Australians to become engineers. He has also been a Board Member of Roads Australia, and an MD of Hyder Consulting.
Greg has a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Queensland and also a PostGrad Diploma in Management from Deakin University.
In this episode, you’re going to hear Greg talk about:
- The importance of making mistakes, re-charting your course and developing broad experience;
- His list of three keys to leadership;
- How to show your staff that you are serious about cultural change, especially around gender diversity; and
- Dealing with difficult issues by taking them head-on.
Connecting with Greg Steele
You can connect with Greg via LinkedIn.
Books and resources
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – by Patrick Lencioni
- The Discipline of Market Leaders – by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema
- Kaleidoscope Strategy – building success that lasts
“Participation leads to ownership, which leads to commitment.”
General discussion points
- Back yourself but be prepared and don’t be afraid to speak your piece.
- I practise mindfulness and I actually visualise coming in to work. I then shut off when I get home. Then, making sure when you’re with a person that you’re really present. I can look back now and see me thinking about three or four things whilst I was talking to a person as opposed to giving that person full attention.
- I also practise meditation twice a week for half an hour, although that ideally should be done daily.
- You’ve got to be very mindful of the impact of your thinking and getting people to do stuff for you. I think most of the time wastage is trying to do too much, so have some clear choices and then drive that through. Our strategy at Arcadis has barely changed; little tweaks around the edges as the market moved. The guy before me apparently every management course he went to, he’d came back with a new strategy. That can really stress an organisation out because they never know where they’re headed. Just have consistency.
On broad career experience to get to the top
- I wasn’t a strong candidate for my first attempt at a CEO role. I reflected on that, and I believed that people had pigeon-holed me. I had to change. I changed jobs, which was a backward step because I had to do some things to change people’s perception. I took on the strategy of the clients but also all the corporate services like Legal, HR, all those things that I needed to help broaden my career. There were some changes in leadership both nationally and globally and within two years, I was the CEO.
- I was born with a competitive streak so strategy is the thing I fell in love with; trying to find a way to outperform and win. That’s where my ambition started to grow.
- Some of the biggest lessons learned for me was listening to bosses in team meetings and then walking out saying I will never do that. They would just totally demotivate the whole staff with a speech. A lot of my lessons and maturity came through what not to do.
- I made some mistakes, of course and then I realised that I just can’t make off-the-cuff decisions. There was a lot more depth I needed in a couple of areas.
On his 3 keys to leadership
- Making sense of things – where is the marketing heading? What are our competitors up to? Where do we need to go? Differentiate.
- Making choices – choices need preparation, understanding, thinking through, having data, some factual evidence as to the decision you’re making. It might originally be led from a gut feel, which most of my big decisions are. Gut feel is telling me this, now let me do some research on this. How do I convince others and give the business case for what I’m doing?
- Making things happen – strategy is easy; implementing strategy is the hard thing. Have an open, collaborative organisation but still be tough on accountability. I think it is really important that you bring people on the journey and try to seek ownership of big decisions. “Participation leads to ownership, leads to commitment”. Often in a strategy, I’ll get about 70% there themselves, then I’ll get others involved to genuinely help polish it up, finish it up. Then, once the decision is made, you’ve got some ownership and therefore their commitment to make things happen.
On making cultural change
- I have a saying: “Sometimes you’ve just got to put a head on a stake in the foyer of the office and let people walk past it and say that you’re serious about this.” We let some people go who weren’t serious about some things in our culture and our strategy.
- My exec team was 10 people, with only one woman. I said that’s not good enough, I’m leading this. I need to show people I’m serious, plus I am a huge believer in diverse teams making better decisions.
- We had our city executives of Brisbane City, Melbourne, two of those females. I added them to the regional executive team. Much to the cries of ‘don’t do it’, the team’s too big from the people in the existing exec team. I did it, so 25% of the exec team are now women. After the first meeting, you can see the change in dynamics. A few of the naysayers said to me afterwards, “I can see why you did it, I understand.” Some things you’ve just got to go against whatever everyone is advising you and just go with your gut.
On what he looks for in executives
- The two key things I look for are potential and learning agility.
- You see often people get promoted to positions, and they weren’t necessarily the best performers on paper, but they’ve had a go at some things. You can see that there’s curiosity and that drive to try some things. I want people to challenge me. I want them to come with ideas and say I want to try this and do that. I far prefer a direct report who will do that as opposed to do what they’re told.
- A big mistake people in leadership roles make is to try and do too many things. Focus is key to leadership and a successful organisation, as is making choices.
- A lot of organisations are trying to do too much. Nowadays there is not too much fat in them. Once you keep adding initiatives and things like that, that might be a right thing to do, but not the right time. I’m very mindful now. If I ask someone to do something, what’s the ripple effect?
- I think you’ve just got to test and try some things. I remember the chairman of Hyder, Sir Allan Thomas, who was in his 70s, would come and spend a week here in Australia with me. He was just legendary with clients. He’d point to me a few times and say, “You’ve got an issue here, and you’re walking around and admiring it. You go up and grab it by the neck, and you grapple with it, and you deal with it.”
- I think in today’s time it’s difficult to let people learn by mistakes, but it’s still the best way of learning.
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- While there is such a dynamic pace of change nowadays in technology, I think some of the fundamentals – like teamwork, bringing people along for the journey – are still required for authentic leadership.
- You’ve got to be more agile than we have in the past because the disruption is occurring. Build agile organisations so that there is limited bureaucracy and people can be empowered with accountability,
- I think sustainability is going to be core as we keep moving into the problems we’re having in the world.