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.

Anthony Smith is the Chief Executive Officer of MercyCare.  MercyCare has been part of the fabric of the WA community for over 170 years and was founded with the vision of providing a more equal, caring and compassionate outlook for all Western Australians, no matter who they are.  MercyCare is not-for-profit and offers over 40 services providing care and assistance wherever it is needed.  Prior to joining MercyCare in 2018, Anthony was Deputy Chief Executive Officer for St John Ambulance WA.  With a career centred on serving the community, Anthony is well qualified to provide some great insights on leadership

Red Emu: Tell us your leadership story – how has your leadership evolved over the years and what has shaped your approach to leadership?

Anthony Smith: Like others, I have always consciously challenged my approach to leadership.  I started my career in roles that required technical, precise and policy driven approaches which is great for building thinking and understanding of concepts.  As I changed roles and moved into leadership teams, I shifted away from that and focussed on understanding people.  The challenge became gaining an insight about how I could encourage, engage and build the capability of people throughout an organisation.

During my career, I have always desired to expand my own perspective and grow as a leader.  I challenged myself to move across sectors so that I would have to be uncomfortable and learn new things.  Those challenges always require you to elevate your leadership effectiveness.

At other times, I was given the opportunity to lead new areas within the organisation I was working for and that entailed leading people through the organisational challenges of the day with far more technical expertise in that discipline than I had.

As I reflect, those situations appeared large and looming at the time but have really been part of my progressive development as a leader.  Actively wanting to challenge yourself but at the same time being true to who you are has been a key part of my development.

Red Emu: You have responsibility for a significant, complex organisation – how do you create clarity for your team and the broader organisation?

Anthony Smith: The services MercyCare delivers are diverse.  For example, residential and in-community aged care may appear to be similar, but they have many differences in the delivery.  We also offer disability services, early learning services and many other family and community based services.

Creating clarity for the organisation is about explaining where we are going but equally important is “how we want to get there”.  It is about “how do we want to do this work”, not always “what is the work we are doing”.  Once we are clear on direction, I focus on creating clarity about how our organisation can and needs to work together and create linkages between the different type of work that each of us is doing.  This provides the opportunity for everyone in MercyCare to establish a real connection to our values and mission.

Red Emu:  What is the biggest sacrifice or trade-off you have had to make in your leadership journey?

Anthony Smith: The obvious trade-off, and it was certainly pronounced early in my career was time away from family.  Travel, out of hours commitments, meetings and the like were part of the roles I’ve had but it didn’t feel like a sacrifice at the time as it was well understood at home that that was the role and we were approaching it as a partnership.

There is also a personal impact that I suspect most leaders feel when you have to make decisions in organisations that impact individuals.  Those decisions need to be made for the long term good of the organisation but there is a personal connection to those decisions.

Red Emu:  As you reflect on your career to date, what advice would have been helpful to you when you started out?

Anthony Smith:  This is a hard question because I don’t know that there is a quick road in leadership.  Having said that, the advice I would give a younger self would be to go and explore and build broad experiences because the way a leader needs to work today is to draw on this knowledge and be willing to change. If you’ve built a career where you have pushed yourself to embrace new experiences and challenges, I think it sets you up as a leader for today and tomorrow.

Red Emu: How do you continue to develop your leadership and the leadership capability within your business?

Anthony Smith: With my teams, I focus on bringing them together and exposing thought to concepts and experiential learning that may have evolved from things I’ve seen.  I think it is important to give leaders confidence and challenges and give them the experiences that will help them learn and grow.  We complement that with practical learning but fundamentally people need to be actively engaged if they are to grow.

In my own case, my development has been underpinned by an acknowledgement that I don’t have all the answers.  People need to find the best way of learning for them, but I think diverse sources of learning and experiences have worked for me.  Courses and programs provide a base but that’s not where you extend your leadership capability.  What helps me the most is taking the time to reflect, self-assess and think critically and chart my own leadership course.  Otherwise, if we all went to the same programs and followed the learnings verbatim, we’d all be the same!  Also, I find that being connected to others and having a genuine enquiring mind to learn from your network is also immensely valuable.