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. In this series of interviews, we pose 5 questions to respected leaders. These leaders lead anywhere from the front line to the corner office, but they have one thing in common – they are highly effective and well regarded. Put aside the theory and read on for an insight into the stories of some outstanding leaders.
Mike Erickson is Senior Vice President Australia at AngloGold Ashanti (AGA). Mike qualified as a Geologist, and worked in operational roles at a number of underground and open pit base metal and gold mines across Australia before joining AGA at Sunrise Dam in 2002. In the 18 years since then he has progressed from technical management roles and site General Manager through to now having responsibility for the Australian operations of AGA since 2014. Mike also has leadership impact at an industry level through his role on the Board of the Minerals Council of Australia and as Vice President of the Chamber of Minerals & Energy of WA. So, what does leadership mean to Mike Erickson?
Red Emu: Tell us your leadership story – how has your leadership evolved over the years and what has shaped your approach to leadership?
Mike Erickson: Leadership has always been front of mind for me and in every leadership role I have had it has come down to people. Having a personal relationship with members of your team and a good understanding of their strengths and what motivates them allows you to get the best out of them by providing support in the right areas. I want people in my team to thrive and shine.
Having said that, you often stumble into your first leadership role and that’s exactly what happened to me back in the early 1990’s. I was working on the underground sulphide project at Wiluna and the Geology Manager at site left. The Managing Director called me in and said “you’re it”! All of a sudden I moved from being an individual contributor to being the manager of about 20 people. It was a bit of a shock understanding all the new issues that I would have to deal with, particularly as they related to people.
The best thing I ever did was recruit some really good people into the key technical roles – it made such a difference to the team and allowed me to concentrate on figuring out my own approach to leadership. The people issues are still the most challenging issues that I deal with today, nearly 30 years later.
Red Emu: You have responsibility for a significant, complex organisation – how do you create clarity for your team and the broader organisation?
Mike Erickson: The COVID pandemic in the last few months has given a great insight into how important it is that the communication is done well and thoughtfully. The measure for me has been the feedback that we have received from people across the business who have commented on the frequency of our communication and the fact that we have been speaking from the heart and showing genuine care for people. I think people need to know you care about them before they take on the business messages.
It is vital to get the communication right. No one ever says “could you please stop sending us information and updates”. People were craving it, particularly in a time of great uncertainty. The outcome has been an interesting lesson into how we can create clarity all of the time, not just during a crisis.
In terms of my direct team, we have been in more frequent contact and we have worked well together over this period. We have focussed on key priorities and what’s best for the overall Region and kept those priorities front of mind.
Red Emu: What is the biggest sacrifice or trade-off you have had to make in your leadership journey?
Mike Erickson: As I reflect on some my key career transitions, the most challenging times have involved moving from a peer role to a leader role. That means a subtle change in the relationship with people that you previously worked alongside. On a couple of occasions, I have struggled with that as my role as leader has meant that some friendships, although continuing, may not be as deep as they were previously.
Of course, as people develop and move around, you eventually end up with a team you have created but at the time, it can feel like you have put career ahead of those relationships.
Red Emu: As you reflect on your career to date, what advice would have been helpful to you when you started out?
Mike Erickson: I think it would have been helpful to fully appreciate the value that can come from learning about teams and leadership and developing yourself as a leader. When I became a leader, we were just expected to get on with it. I had a very positive experience at Wiluna with a very thoughtful leader who placed an emphasis on developing us as a team, and the value of that investment has stuck with me to this day. I think I would have undertaken more development earlier in my career if I had my time again.
Red Emu: How do you continue to develop your leadership and the leadership capability within your business?
Mike Erickson: The key is devoting time to it and making it a priority. That is both at a personal level, whether that be reading, reflecting or undertaking coaching, but also spending time, as a team, dedicated to learning about ourselves and how we interact and talking about how effectively we are performing. We need to devote time to us as a team. This may not be about how we run the business on a day to day basis, but it is invaluable as it sets up how the senior leadership team will work together and lead the rest of the business. We have some key alliance-style relationships with our contract mining partners and we also want to involve them in our leadership work to ensure we are working as well together as we can – that’s what creates the culture for our broader employee group.