Real Life. Real Leadership.
Sarah Duffy is the Global Lead, Transformation at BlueScope, a manufacturing business that operates across 18 countries. In this role Sarah is helping enable BlueScope to achieve its growth aspirations by building business appetite and readiness for its digital evolution. Sarah is a people nerd and firm believer in the power of people to super charge an organisation’s strategic agenda.
Red Emu: Tell us your leadership story – how has your leadership evolved over the years and what has shaped your approach to leadership?
Sarah: I started my career as a strategy analyst where I often observed challenges with translating a well-intended strategy into outcomes. Whether the strategy commanded growth, efficiencies, responding to new policies, the reality is, we were depending on people to make it happen. And I didn’t know much about that back then, other than what I learnt from my formal education. Since then I’ve worked across many industries as an organisation capability professional.
I joined BlueScope Steel in 2014 which was my first role ‘inside’ a company. Looking back, when I was a consultant, I often felt like I was making recommendations from the sidelines. Whereas, when you are working inside an organisation, you see all the opportunities, the key players, the unwritten rules, the beliefs, and the constraints. This provided me with an incredible experience and perspective around how to facilitate change in complex organisations.
Red Emu: You have responsibility for a significant, complex organisation – how do you create clarity for your team and the broader organisation?
Sarah: The first thing is to recognise is that creating clarity is not just my responsibility. It’s distributed. People look to their own leaders and others who they trust. Over the years, I have learnt that just sending leaders a slide pack with key messages does not work! Those delivering a new direction need to deeply understand and buy-into it and share it in an authentic way through their own stories and examples that resonate with their teams.
Red Emu: What is the biggest sacrifice or trade-off you have had to make in your leadership journey?
Sarah: I’ve never experienced something that I would consider a sacrifice. There have been times when I have faced doubts about career choices, and times when I have had to stick my neck out to stand for something that I believed in. Whenever I’m faced with these situations, and I can feel the fear rumbling inside me, I remind myself of something my mum taught me which is ‘to be the change you want to see in the world’. That’s actually a quote from Gandhi however mum showed me how to live that through her purpose and actions in the community.
Red Emu: As you reflect on your career to date, what advice would have been helpful to you when you started out?
Sarah: I would tell myself that saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean you are letting people down. Earlier in my career, I would fall into the trap being too many things to too many people, suffering from busy sickness. This meant having not enough time to think strategically or to build critical connections.
I had this ‘aha’ moment when I returned from parental leave because I needed to leave at 4:30pm to feed my daughter. It was quite liberating because I realised that my success was not directly related to work output, people cared more about bringing a different perspective and impact.
Red Emu: How do you continue to develop your leadership and the leadership capability within your business?
Sarah: Growth is fuelled by self-awareness for me and the best way to understand my effectiveness as a leader is to seek feedback and reflect. Within my team, we have also defined core behaviours to build team awareness and create mechanisms for us to seek continuous feedback and growth opportunities, which includes listening to our internal customers.
To accelerate learning across our organisation, communities also play a big role. For example, we have established a global digital community that focuses on discussing our digital program, showcasing work underway, and learning skills to lead digital. It’s amazing how much insight and inspiration is generated by simply bringing people together.
Red Emu: As we approach the return phase of the COVID-19 crisis, what wins do you want to keep?
Sarah: That’s a big question! People continue to experience huge disruption due to COVID-19 – across our personal lives, work and in our community. So, something to keep would be continuing the focus on creating mentally healthy workplaces. It has been inspiring to see senior leaders’ role modelling self-care – which in turn gives people permission to do the same. The other positive from COVID-19 is around the shifts around team collaboration and compassion which has resulted in deeper social bonds and inclusion. Connection and inclusion are key ingredients to innovation, and you can never have too much of that.