The CEO Series: Leadership Observations From The Front Line
Interviews with CEO'S from the For-Purpose sector with Liska Turner
For-Purpose leaders are as diverse as the organisations that they lead. Every couple of months I sit down with a CEO where they share their experiences and thoughts on leading a for-purpose organisation. This month I had the pleasure of talking to David Sexton, CEO at Variety, The Children's Charity.
David Sexton, CEO at Variety, The Children's Charity
David has a passion for making a difference in the lives of Aussie kids in need. He brings to Variety extensive and broad senior management experience over the past 25 years spanning across a variety of industries.
With all his leadership positions, David has a track record of implementing significant strategic business initiatives which have resulted in tangible and measurable results including increased philanthropic outcomes, revenue growth, improved operational performance and enhanced customer experience.
He served on the Board of the Liz Ellis Foundation, is a strategic advisor to Women’s International Cricket League (WICL) and co-founded the Youngcare Walk.
The CEO Series: Leadership observations from the frontline
An interview series with CEO’s from the for-purpose sector.
CEO’s lead from the front. What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organisation?
The most important decision is to ensure that all your decisions deliver on the vision and mission of the organisation and current strategic plan. In the case of Variety, this is to ensure any decision positively impacts kids who are disadvantaged or living with disability.
I often challenge my staff with, “If the conversation isn’t going to help more kids, then let’s start one that will”.
Culture is fundamental to organisational success. How do you help a new employee understand the culture of your organisation?
We are a values based organisation. Our values Equality, Community, Action and Joy are reflected in all of our processes and policies. They are also visible, up on the wall in the office, in our brand book, in our email signatures etc. When we recruit new members of staff, we ensure that there is an alignment between our company values and their personal values and that they understand how important our values are here at Variety before we offer the role. We also introduce them to other members of staff before they join and ideally attend an event with the kids and their families. Before I commenced I went along to the Santa Fun Run and Variety Kids Xmas Party.
No business operates in isolation. When you’re considering partnering with another person or business, what factors are deal-breakers for you?
Honesty and integrity come first. This builds trust. They must be good at what they do. They must be able to demonstrate their competence and articulate their experience. Finally, be able to provide referees. If they can’t tick any of these boxes, then there’s unlikely to be a partnership.
Succession planning is key to building a sustainable organisation. How do you choose who to promote?
We are in a similar situation to many other charities in that due to the size of our organisation we are limited in the number of promotions that we can offer.
Instead I look for growth and challenges in their current role which we build into their development plan. I am a big believer in supporting a person to reach their full potential while they are with you. The reality is that they will leave and if you can get the best out of them while they are with you, you strengthen your own business and build capacity in the role.
I look for unlocked potential and for management positions, an interest in and ability to manage people. This comes before technical skills. I have seen people promoted on the basis of tenure or perceived seniority who have really struggled. One thing I will say is that there needs to be clarity between the staff member, the manager and the rest of the team about the new ‘stretch’ element of their role.
The role of CEO is quite unique. What advice would you give someone going into a CEO leadership position for the first time?
- It’s about stewardship not ownership.
- Be consistent.
- Be prepared to work hard and put in the effort.
- Be open to feedback. You are the face of your organisation and stakeholders will want to express their views (even if you don’t ask for it).
- Be patient. It takes time and don’t expect the change or results you are hoping for to happen quickly.
- Be reflective. Take the time to look back and celebrate what you have achieved.
- Remember people are always watching you. You are a barometer for the organisation. You set the tone. This means that at times you can feel lonely or isolated so have a coach or mentor that you trust to bounce things off.
What leadership decision are you most proud of?
It’s the decision to make tough calls based on the values of Variety which ensures that we stay true to our vision, mission and those that we serve.
Personal LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidasexton/
David has also been a long time advocate of Beaumont People and we thank him for his time in sharing his Beaumont experience both as a client and candidate.
Liska Turner is an executive recruiter that specialises in the For-Purpose Sector. She works with Boards and CEO’s to build sustainable organisations through connecting people and ideas. She can be contacted at email@example.com or 02 9279 2777.