Real Life. Real Leadership.
We live in a turbulent world. More than ever before, people are looking to their leaders to provide clarity and purpose. Put aside the theory and read on for an insight into the story of an outstanding leader – Holly Clark, Exploration Manager, AngloGold Ashanti (AGA)
Holly Clark graduated as a geologist in the United Kingdom, before relocating to Australia and joining AngloGold Ashanti (AGA) in 2009. During her time with Anglo, she has held a number of roles, starting out as a Graduate Exploration Geologist and progressing to Project Exploration Geologist, before moving into leadership roles. Today she is Exploration Manager at Sunrise Dam Gold Mine, leading a team of approximately 150 people, consisting of AGA staff and contractors. The team she is accountable for work varied fly in fly out rosters and have different backgrounds and technical capabilities.
Red Emu: Tell us your leadership story – how has your leadership evolved over the years and what has shaped your approach to leadership?
Holly Clark: I have been in mining in Australia for 12 years; my first leadership role started 7 years ago when I became a Senior Exploration Geologist. I clearly remember that at the time we had a restructure in the department. The Geology Manager asked if I would like to be Senior Geologist and that he thought I would be a good fit for the role. It was a classic moment of self-doubt. My initial response was “Really?” I’d not been there the longest and I didn’t have the most experience in mining. I asked if he thought I could do the role, to which he replied “Absolutely.” My Managers confidence in me was just what I needed, and it marked a real turning point in my career; I was now responsible for leading people. His response has made me mindful to be very encouraging of people in my team that I elevate into new positions; if they know you have confidence in them and you put the right level of support around them, they are highly likely to succeed.
I have since managed different sized teams and people with different skillsets, under quite different business models, as new General Managers have come into the business. I started by managing a group of exploration geologists and then a larger group of geology technicians, in a back-to-back senior role. I then became a Superintendent and at the beginning of this year, was appointed the role of Exploration Manager. The role is accountable for approximately 150 people, consisting of exploration geologists, technicians, and a large contracting drilling group.
I am a glass half full person and am passionate about the job, both about the geology and the people aspect of the role, so I would say that I lead with passion, with enthusiasm and also with empathy. You can sum it up as friendly, firm and fair.
How I translate this in the workplace is by adhering to the AngloGold Values at all times and holding people to account of these. I’ve seen leaders very quickly lose the respect of the team by either not following the rules that they expect their team to, or by not acting quick enough to a situation where the values are being compromised. As a leader you are always in the spotlight, so you have to lead by example.
Secondly, I make a point of getting into the different work areas by attending pre-shift meetings, listening to what is happening in that work group and sharing with them news about the business. I also walk through the work areas during the shift, chatting to the team, asking them about the task they are undertaking, asking them about family, friends, sharing some nerdy geology facts etc. I’ve found that when you leave your desk and get out into the workplace, that’s when you really find out what’s happening with individuals, with the team, with safety and the overall culture. It is important to me as a leader, that everyone in the team knows that I am approachable, that they can come to chat with me about anything at any time, and that if and when required, I will take swift action to ensure alignment to Anglo values and the business model. This is how I build strong working relationships and is an area that I’ve heavily focused on this since being the Exploration Manager. It’s been rewarding to receive positive feedback from a new team I’ve been managing; they appreciate me being available to them. If you give your time, in turn there will be good results from a team. I truly believe that, and it has been an immensely powerful learning for me this year.
Red Emu: You have responsibility for a significant, complex organisation – how do you create clarity for your team and the broader organisation?
Holly Clark: While I am not responsible for a significant or complex organisation, this year (2020) I do have responsibility for the largest exploration budget in the AngloGold Ashanti portfolio, sitting at A$46M. This comes with a suite of aggressive business deliverables to be achieved by the team I lead. That means I have needed to set a great deal of clarity at the onset and continue to do so on a weekly basis, as the business develops and as results come through.
For me, I’m really big on setting context. I can’t work well if I don’t know what I’m doing, particularly, why am I doing it.
I have had training over the years in CPQQTR – Context, Purpose, Quality, Quantity, Time and Resources and I have found this useful time and time again. Context is about What and Purpose is all about Why, as in What does the individual or team need to do and Why.
When any of us have clarity and know why we are here, what we need to do, I really believe we work better. I have seen it firsthand, and it creates a well-functioning, high performing team, that are happy.
I always try and share a lot of information. When I first started out in industry, it felt like it was more ‘secret squirrel’, and not a lot of sharing throughout the organisation. Ambiguity can just hinder performance and waste time. If people have a clear understanding, they generally do a better job quicker, and more effectively for a business. As I moved through the ranks, I felt that had been a little detrimental to me at times. If information had flowed more freely years before, I could have done a better job for example.
Now I like to share as much information with my team as I can, however, there is a fine line between not sharing enough and overwhelming people. An example would be when Richard McLeod and Mike Erickson were presenting at Diggers and Dealers this year, I received the link to watch with the management team and I thought it important to share with the geologists I manage. They had the option of whether they wanted to watch the presentation over lunch and discuss afterwards. Sharing information like that helps create clarity about what we’re aiming to achieve as an organisation and how that translates at a mine site level, it also equips and helps upscale people.
Finally, clear and concise communication is paramount when delivering information to the upper levels of the organisation. It is my job to pull the right information from my team and package it up, usually into a slide deck for the General Manager of the mine and SVP Australia to deliver internally to the senior executives and externally at various conferences/meetings. Funding for exploration is paramount to the longevity of the mine, so when you are accountable for such a large sum of money, you must be able to clearly communicate what the business is getting back in return for the investment. You also have to be able to secure the big budgets too. I like to think I undertake this work with the afore mentioned passion and get non-geologists enthused about rocks and gold!
Red Emu: What is the biggest sacrifice or trade-off you have had to make in your leadership journey?
Holly Clark: When I started my career in geology, there were no jobs in the UK. All UK geologists at the time (2008) were moving to Australia. I don’t have any family here and that is upsetting at times because it would be really nice to pop around to Mum and Dad’s occasionally for Sunday roast. But I don’t see it as a sacrifice of being a leader though. I got myself into an industry that I wanted to work in and that meant relocating from the UK.
Perhaps that view is reflective of how much I have enjoyed the work. When you work on roster, because you spend such a large proportion of your time at work, it has to be ticking boxes for you. And it always has for me since making the move. I have found the work with AngloGold interesting, challenging, rewarding and that has kept me here in Australia.
Red Emu: As you reflect on your career to date, what advice would have been helpful to you when you started out?
Holly Clark: I remember one particular situation, possibly before I was actually in a leadership role, that two people were having an altercation of sorts and it became quite emotional and heated between the pair. When the managers came in on Monday, I was explaining the situation and how I had tried to deal with it. They shared with me that in a situation like that, you try to take the emotion out of the situation. At the time I remember wondering what that actually meant.
That was before I had been on any leadership training. I believe that most of the time emotions are really good and powerful in the workplace; you need emotion to be human and to relate to people. But there are times when it isn’t constructive. You need to strip it back and look at it for what it is, not become overly emotional about particular situations. As a leader, you’ve got to know when emotions are useful and when they will not assist in achieving the best outcome for either people, or for a business. Empathy and listening to your gut I’ve found is also key.
Red Emu: How do you continue to develop your leadership and the leadership capability within your business?
Holly Clark: There’s so much to be said for what I see as classical training. I’ve been fortunate to attend some great courses over the years, but the work that we have been doing with Red Emu is awesome #notsponsored. Being able to get a 360 view from higher up the chain, your peers and then direct, is hugely beneficial. I love that kind of approach.
I also undertake a lot of reading. A book recommended to me by a former colleague is “Radical Candor,” by Kim Scott. One of the focus points is the benefit for everyone if you all give frank, honest and timely feedback. It really resonated with me and now most of my senior team have read it, which is just brilliant. There are also some great videos on You Tube about radical candor, which I’ve used as teaching aids for the team.
I think a lot of people get scared about giving feedback, especially when it relates to places where people can improve. I didn’t want to be scared about giving people feedback and I didn’t want my team to react badly to it. The book details how, if the people you work with know that you care personally about them, they know that when you tell them they could improve in an area, that you have their best interests at heart and that you are providing them with that information to help develop them, not to make them feel disheartened. It takes a while to develop this culture and people are required to not get defensive when hearing about an area they can improve upon, but all in all, it’s been successful I would say within the team. I also want people to be able to give me feedback, because to learn and develop in leadership, you have to be getting both sides of the feedback, right? The positive and the negative, where you can improve.
Different challenges have come with each different group, which I’ve always found interesting and a massive learning curve. I like knowing what makes people tick and I enjoy reading material to try and learn more about people, behaviors and what makes teams successful. I have always enjoyed that side of the job, probably more than the technical side. It’s so rewarding when you can make a difference, especially when people work away. Most of the team are working eight days away from family and friends, two weeks in the height of Corona virus and some people don’t have family based in Perth. Perhaps because I’m from Sheffield in the UK and without family here, I find it important that when people come to work, they feel happy to be there and a big part of this is them understanding why they’re there. They feel supported. They know I have time for them, and this ultimately leads to results for the business, so it’s win-win.
In terms of developing leadership capability, when I run workshops with my team I am clear on the expectations and process up front. I explain the concept, I explain what I expect, I share what they can expect to get from me and from their managers, and also, I share what I expect to get from the team and then actively try and achieve that. I regularly sense check ideas with my senior team before rolling out and I check in with them often to make sure they they feel supported in leading and driving this work down through the whole team, coaching and mentoring where required.
To develop myself, I enjoy watching and learning from the way senior leaders in the organisation conduct themselves, and I encourage my team to do the same. Mike Erickson (SVP Australia) is someone I really look up to and I consciously watch the way he conducts himself. For example, if I sit in on a meeting with Mike, I’ve noticed he’ll listen to all comments and will be the last one to give his view or his opinion because he is actively listening. It is a really important skill to learn. As a leader, it can be hard not to be first to answer questions and I’m not saying that I always get this right, but I’m aware of it. I’m aware that you really need to let people speak and to actively listen to their response to be a good leader, and to help you understand what is important to people and for them to feel valued.