Real Life. Real Leadership.
Shane Addis is the co-founder and managing director of ERGT, Australia’s safety training specialists for high risk industries. Shane joined ERGT in 1994 and took the helm in the year 2000. He has a passion for effective workplace learning which has driven him and ERGT for more than 25 years, and directly contributed to the growth of the business. Under Shane’s stewardship, ERGT has grown from a single site in Perth to six centres across Australia.
Red Emu: Tell us your leadership story – how has your leadership evolved over the years and what has shaped your approach to leadership?
Shane Addis: I honestly don’t think I realised what leadership was until about 15 years ago. I don’t think of myself as a professional leader, more a leader by accident. I have never had a mentor or anyone I remember learning from and being able to see what good leadership looks like. Having an experienced and effective leader to learn from is one thing I fear I have missed in my career.
When it came to taking on the role of managing director, I had very little confidence in myself as the right person to lead the organisation. In the early days, I was really doing it with a sense of obligation until I could find someone better. That didn’t lead to a very positive approach to leadership. Around 10 years ago I sought external help which has changed my view of what leadership is and my ability to be an effective leader. It was around 7 years ago that I professionally and emotionally became more committed.
There have been a number of phases in my leadership story and it was about 5 years ago when I realised that I could do this job. I know I still have work to do and it continues to be a journey, but I have started to hit my stride and am committed to doing the best I can. I understand my strengths and weaknesses better now and subsequently, am able to work better with our leadership team who also support me in the areas where I am weak. I thoroughly enjoy the role these days and feel it is an absolutely a privilege and responsibility I enjoy.
Red Emu: You have responsibility for a significant, complex organisation – how do you create clarity for your team and the broader organisation?
Shane Addis: For the past 8 years we have put significant effort into structured, strategic planning and a lot of effort into ensuring that we execute on that effectively. We take a simple approach which recognises that the world we operate in is very complex. We use the Patrick Lencioni method called The Advantage. It is 6 standard questions which we have modified to 7 to suit our business. We then develop the answers to those questions, some of which rarely change and some of the answers we change every year.
This framework enables us to decide where we will focus our efforts in any 3, 6, 12 month period. By taking a very simple approach to reduce complexity, we are able to communicate clear messages about what’s important to all of our people in different locations. We’ve learnt that sharing that message, really simply and clearly, is absolutely critical to getting it to work. And then we communicate again, and over communicate.
Red Emu: What is the biggest sacrifice or trade-off you have had to make in your leadership journey?
Shane Addis: I feel that regardless of what you do in life, there will always be sacrifices or trade-offs. My younger self might be disappointed with some choices I have made, but I fully accept them and feel really satisfied at this point of my life, personally and work-wise.
Red Emu: As you reflect on your career to date, what advice would have been helpful to you when you started out?
Shane Addis: As a leader you need to be true to yourself and ultimately trust your instincts. I would advise myself to be open to listening and learning from others and their experience. To also observe the reality of what really happens, not what people perceive to have happened.
I studied science at university and still think rather scientifically, always looking for evidence. What people say is very important, but the results and evidence of what actually happens is even more important. This is how I inform my thinking and instincts, and am constantly creating and testing hypotheses about what works and doesn’t work. I have learnt over the past 26 years in this business, to trust that process.
As a leader of a people business, it is naturally going to be complex. As soon as you have complexity, you are not going to be able to solve problems with a linear or algorithmic approach which is quite common. This is where the difference between ‘simple’ and ‘simplicity’ comes in. A ‘simple’ solution may be uncomplicated, but a ‘simplistic’ solution may be may be over-simplified and miss complexities in a particular situation.
It is very easy to embark on a simplistic path before fully understanding the complexity of a situation. On the surface the evidence and numbers might support a simplistic approach, but unfortunately the reality and results might not. The key is to see through the complexities, to then create a simple understanding and then respond accordingly.
Red Emu: How do you continue to develop your leadership and the leadership capability within your business?
Shane Addis: I have sought a great deal of external leadership support over the past decade and now I am focusing on the specific areas where I know I need to improve. We have some very talented leaders in our organisation and the team will challenge me on my leadership. They know what I am working on and if I am not giving it my best, they let me know.
They also expect me to do the same with them. They cascade the same approach within their teams. It is early days but the momentum we have is becoming part of the way we do things here. While we do engage in formal training for technical or coaching needs, this internal approach to leadership development has become sticky, we like it and it is working for us.