Catholic Healthcare general manager Therese Adami GAICD got her first board role after being mentored by lawyer and experienced director Kirsten Mander FAICD.

    Therese Adami GAICD

    I’ve always liked the variety you get in health care — you combine your people skills and clinical knowledge to help patients get better. At Catholic Healthcare, I’ve been working on getting the balance right for our people, finances and customers. Customer experience has improved significantly since we’ve adopted better logistics and service practices from other industries such as hospitality.

    To be an effective leader you’ve got to continue to grow, and that’s why I asked Women On Boards to help me find a mentor. Kirsten had experience in health care and is successful in her board career, so she was a good match. You can be technically good at your job, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be a great leader. That’s why it was good to get her feedback. It has really helped me to continue to evaluate myself and remain open to different ways of getting outcomes.

    In my earlier roles, I tended to be really heads-down and task-focused. In my role at Catholic Healthcare, I plant the seed with people, encouraging them to work together and empowering them to make decisions. I realised that I’d been trying to do everything, when what I needed was to work effectively to develop and empower people.

    The biggest lesson I’ve taken from Kirsten is about proactively networking to build relationships with people in other areas — getting out into industry networks and attending AICD courses and events. Kirsten also suggested we map my network to help find future opportunities in my career, including board roles. She’s very purposeful in how she’s planned her career life cycle and I was quite surprised I hadn’t been that strategic.

    I did the Company Directors Course [in 2015] because I’d been going to board meetings as a manager and wanted to understand a bit more about what boards needed from management. I also wanted to look at options for giving back to the community through serving on boards as I got older.

    Kirsten suggested we map my network to help find future opportunities.

    Therese Adami GAICD

    I am a nominee for the Catholic Parish of North Sydney. The North Sydney Retirement Trust is in my local area, so when I saw an expression of interest for new board members I put up my hand. It’s in my community and I can bring my aged care, nursing, management and governance skills. We’re bringing a holistic approach to care for the residents, improving both clinical outcomes and customer experience.

    When I joined the Trust’s James Milson Village board, Kirsten suggested I spend the first few meetings listening, learning and building one-on-one relationships with fellow board members.

    Lawyers are quite analytical, and as Kirsten has shown me, good lawyers — like nurses — also have empathy and strong interpersonal skills. She’s an experienced mentor and leader, someone who wants to do it for the other person.

    Getting through the door is important, but what you do when you get there is important as well.

    Kirsten Mander FAICD

    Kirsten Mander FAICD

    The first thing that struck me about Therese was how passionate she was about getting her team aligned, growth-orientated and customer-focused. She really assesses things through a lens of “what can we do to advance both the interests of the organisation and the people that it serves?”.

    We both value honesty, integrity and the importance of getting better outcomes for people. These values are important, whether you’re on the board of an aged care organisation, a bank or a superannuation company.

    We’ve talked about moving from functional roles — about direct responsibility and instructing people — into the board roles, where directors need deeper skills in areas such as effective influencing in a collegiate environment, dealing with alternate viewpoints and the complexities of authority and effective oversight.

    Getting through the door is important, but what you do when you get there is important as well. When Therese and I talked about which sectors and boards are her most useful direction, it included focusing on “what can I add to the table and this is what I will do to help me develop”.

    It’s been good to see how she’s taken those strong management skills and applied them to her new board role, lifting the strategic focus so she can move from the hands-on “this is what you do” to “this is how you govern”. As you become more senior, there are fewer people you can talk to frankly. Everyone needs a good sounding board.

    Good advice from Kirsten Mander

    What to look for in a mentor

    1. Choose a mentor who will expand your knowledge – You want a mentor who has insight and experience across a number of sectors, roles and even countries, because that breadth of exposure broadens the mind.
    2. A mentor shouldn’t shape you in their own image –A mentor should be emotionally mature enough to guide you to make the best possible decisions for yourself. You don’t want someone who’ll turn you into a clone, imposing their ideas about what your goals should be.
    3. Be clear about what you hope to achieve– It’s important you agree on the goals of the exercise and capture them in writing. It often starts with a diffuse desire of wanting to do something better, then, as a mentor, I help shape that into what might be their next steps.
    4. Discuss when the relationship will end – If you go through an organisation like Women On Boards, people understand how many sessions are involved. That’s not to say people don’t continue to catch up and sometimes the relationship evolves into a friendship.
    5. Your mentor might tell you some hard truths – Mentors need to be honest and prepared to share their experiences, not just trot out tired platitudes. Much of the role is about helping people on the journey — and trust and supportiveness are important parts of making those transitions. I want to help other people get chances in their careers that I’ve had myself.

    What to consider when building a board career

    1. Get on board with lifelong learning – Everyone who is serious about being on a board should do the Company Directors Course. It helps you make that transition from management to a leadership and board role. Also, keep an eye on other activities related to your sector so you can both develop stronger sector skills and knowledge, as well as build networks.
    2. Think about adding value first – Once you’ve done the Company Directors Course, look at what industry associations, not-for-profits and government boards are a logical fit with areas you’re genuinely interested in and where your skills can add value. While getting on to an NFP board is not a guarantee of other board roles, they can provide valuable hands-on experience.
    3. Work on your board skills – Don’t rush in and try too hard during the first couple of meetings. Listen first, then build your input and influence. Get the balance right.
    4. Try not to act competitive – Contributing value is not about the “gotcha” moment of finding a mistake on page 96. On a high-profile board, there will be competitive behaviour, but remember: people are still people, wherever they are.

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