SPARK: Video Series

Fire up your confidence, influence and courage through self-leadership

Sally talks Self-Leadership with Alison Flemming

Click to watch the interview…

Alison Flemming
General Manager, Scentre Group

A proven leader with a passion for delivering results in collaborative and innovative ways. With a technical background in accounting and commercial skills and experience in technical and operational leadership combined with a personal approach and commitment to working with and developing teams has continually delivered commercial and personal results.

Her passion is creating organisational value and developing people. She’s actively involved in many areas of the corporate diversity and inclusion policy and co-ordinates a development group for female leaders. Additionally, Alison mentors for a number of formal programs and an Advisory Board Member for Shop You and Hands Group.

Alison squeezes as much into her life as possible, both personally and professionally. Alongside her job she’s a life long learner who enjoys running, cycling and the great outdoors.  A very passionate traveler, frustrated at being grounded by Covid-19!

NSW Telstra Business Womens Award Finalist 2015
Executive of the Year 2014
Centre Manager of the Year 2013

Connect / Follow Alison on LinkedIn.

 

#leadership #courage #confidence #influence #selfleadership #selfreliance #retail #commerce #business #shopping #australia

I wish I knew it was a tool I had all along!

And learning when to let get of the reliance on others and build your own self-reliance.

 

What I wish I knew about self-leadership before I stepped into my first leadership role?

Grab the Self-Leadership Whitepaper

Book Sally to Speak at your Meeting, Conference or Event

Interview Transcript

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Hi. Sally Foley-Lewis here with another episode of the Spark’s self-leadership video series and it’s my absolute great, great pleasure to be able to have a conversation with a very smart, very savvy, Alison Flemming, who is the general manager of Scentre Group. If you don’t know what Scentre Group or who Scentre Group are, think the big W. They’re Westfield, so where everyone loves to shop. And so well, there’s a good plug for your Alison.

Alison Flemming:

Thanks, Sally.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

No worries. I didn’t mean to do that, but I don’t mind doing it either. Alison and I met many years ago and we catch up once every blue moon and I just have loved watching Alison’s career progress and watch what she does on LinkedIn and who she connects with and would really love to have a conversation around self-leadership. So thank you for joining me today.

Alison Flemming:

Thank you. Very excited to be here and see where this conversation goes.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah, absolutely. So let me start by asking you, in your context or in your own view, what’s self-leadership?

Alison Flemming:

I think for me self-leadership is being quite mindful and purposeful about how I think, feel and act because… And then also making sure what I think, feel and do, is aligned to where I’m trying to go. So I find it quite empowering that I’m in control and somewhat the CEO of my own life, if you want to put it that way. So, but it’s… Yeah, for me, it’s really about, yeah, leading myself before I think I’ve got the right or the privilege to then go forward and lead other people.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. I love that. And I love that. Yeah. I think, think… What did you say think and do… Matching up the thinking with the acting? Sorry, I just thought that was just brilliant and I really just butchered your words, and I apologise, but I just thought that was a really, really cool way of testing yourself and making sure you’re aligned with your own values, your own thinking.

Alison Flemming:

Yeah. Well, I think we’re all kidding ourselves if we think that our thoughts and our views don’t play out in our actions, so I’m always kind of testing whether, yeah. What do I do? And is that aligned to what I thought and felt about something and does that serve me well and get me to where I’ve decided I would like to go.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. I love that. Thank you. That’s brilliant. So what impact do you think then does self-leadership play on elements that often show up in leadership, like influence, courage and confidence?

Alison Flemming:

Yeah, I think the self-leadership piece there’s… I think if you’re being true to that, there’s an element of preparation that naturally happens. You’re being aware of your thoughts and you’re being aware of how that’s playing out in how you do things and how others see you. So therefore, I think it’s like everything. Preparation normally leads to a greater sense of confidence, a greater sense of confidence often leads to, or has an impact on your ability to influence. If I’m speaking with somebody and they can see that I’ve really thought about something and I’m quite confident in how I’m putting forward a position or expressing my view or even questioning things. Then I think you’ve got the ability to be more influential when you’re a bit more organised and purposeful in your thinking and where you want to take things.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. I love that. And I think that’s one of the things that often in a busy day to day context, the preparation piece is either forgotten, neglected, ignored, or felt as though it’s not important enough and I think we then trip ourselves up.

Alison Flemming:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think there’s an amazing people who will say, oh, that they got really good at winging it, but if you dig into it, they’ve actually got a really good process for winging it. So they’re not really, really winging it. They’ve just learnt what works well for them and there is still always an underlying element of preparation that’s helped them with their success.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

I think you just nailed it right then actually. That’s gold. Alison, I don’t want to go past it. People who say they’ve been winging it, there’ve been winging it for how many years?

Alison Flemming:

Yeah. Correct.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah, that’s a very insightful point. And I think that we can get caught up in what we’re… The facade that we see of someone who says that, and it can actually… It can trigger our own imposter syndrome or our own confidence when an actual fact, like you said, dig into it and they’ve actually got a process.

Alison Flemming:

Yeah.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. I like that. That’s really cool. Yeah. So maybe… Look, I don’t necessarily want you to give away all your hard stories or anything that you don’t want to share. But one of the things that I find really interesting to learn about and to take the lessons from is when something hasn’t gone well, or there’s been an event, and maybe it’s COVID and the pandemic or there’s been something happening where your own sort of self-leadership has had a bit of a dent and you’ve needed to reignite it. And I’m wondering, maybe you don’t need to share the story, you can if you want to, but more importantly, I think… What did you do to reignite it and what are the lessons that you got from that?

Alison Flemming:

Yeah, well, fortunately, or unfortunately I can think of a few events that have not been so fun, but I think what’s helped me through those is being really clear on what energises me and what drains me of energy. Because if I think about, yeah, where my self leadership has got a bit lost and I’ve sort of lost my mojo it’s because I’ve been doing too much of what doesn’t energise me and not enough of what does. COVID is a great example. I’m not sure anybody thoroughly enjoyed last year, but I think another time for me was I was catching up with a good friend of mine, who’s just an absolute superstar and she’s been a CEO of a couple of retail brands, and is now a CMO of one of the big buy now pay later companies.

Alison Flemming:

And we were having breakfast and we kind of got three quarters of the way through breakfast. And she had to kind of pull me up and she was sort of saying, I’ve been really boring, but her way of saying that was I just need to call out that you’ve completely lost your spark. You’re not passionate about anything and so it was interesting that we didn’t catch up, I’d say all that often, but she could tell that there was something going on for me, that I wasn’t being my usual self. And I think, again, I surround myself with people who know me better also, not afraid to be brutally honest and sometimes it just takes a trigger like that for you to go, yeah. I have lost my mojo.

Alison Flemming:

And why have I lost that? Okay, I’m doing a whole heap of this stuff that drains me and I’m not doing enough of the stuff that gives me energy. And I think that that sort of impacts your ability to get on with things and have the impact that you want to make. So it’s sort of that self-leadership failing, if you like, that you have failed to recognise that before it presents for somebody else. So, last year for me, it was a lot about navigating a whole new landscape and I would always much rather see people in person. I learned last year that I really depend a lot on eye contact and physical cues.

Alison Flemming:

I struggled initially with video conferences or those awkward video conferences where you’ve got your camera on and that other person turns their camera off, and you can’t see and pick up on what’s happening for them. So I had to be really careful with that last year and how that then impacted sort of my mood and my ability to have the impact that I wanted to have. So, yeah. I think just being really mindful of and clear on what energises me and makes me, I guess, good at what I’m good at and what drains me and therefore sucks the life out of me a little bit.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah and what a gift that you’re smart enough to hang around smart people who’ve got your back and I’m sure she delivered it in a caring way, but a direct way. And that’s something that you would really want, good people that you do hang around with to be able to say to you. So that’s really kind of a really caring situation that she said that to you. So are there any sort of… Was there any particular activity that you then did to actually go back and shift and make sure that you’re reducing what drains you and increasing what ignites you and sparks you?

Alison Flemming:

Yeah. Yeah. I got a different job, so yeah. I think at the time, I was in very much an internally focused sort of a backup. I’ve moved between financial and operational roles during the time that I’ve been here. I’ve been here for 13 years and I’ve been really lucky to move around in a number of roles and at that point in time, I think I was in a very internally focused kind of reporting role if you like and I had to recognise that, yeah. That wasn’t working for me and I needed to reconnect externally. I get a lot of energy from other people, the outside world, researching trends and seeing what we can do in that space. And none of that was sort of within the scope of my role. So I kind of, at that point, recognised it was the role that wasn’t working for me and, and set out to change that because yeah. As soon as I recognised that other people were sensing that to her point, I’ve lost my spark and I didn’t really have my mojo.

Alison Flemming:

I really don’t… It’s very uncomfortably with me that that’s how other people would be viewing me. So, yeah. It was important for me to go back and do more of the work I love.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

And I guess then Scentre Group were able to, through a process, help you get there. So…

Alison Flemming:

Yeah.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah.

Alison Flemming:

I’m very lucky in that respect.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. Which means, I’m reading between the lines here, so correct me if I’m wrong is that you’re able have those conversations and it might not happen overnight, but you’re able to put forward your intention and your wishes and say, now, what do I have to do to get there? And then I gather, it probably wasn’t something that happened overnight, but at least a plan was put in place.

Alison Flemming:

Yeah, that’s right. And I think one of the things that I’ve learned over the years, if you can articulate to people how they can help you, most of the time, they will move heaven and earth to try and help you. Because the hardest thing to figure out often is exactly how to help somebody. So if you can articulate that you’ve got a need and that they can play a role in helping that then yeah. And it did not happen overnight. Yeah. I don’t want to give you the impression that I walked in after breakfast and was in a new job by lunch. There was quite a good time period in between that. But again, just recognising that I needed to change and then having the conversation and also then realising change was possible. But sometimes that’s all you need it’s then, when it changes becomes less relevant because you know that it’s out there and you’ve also kind of rechecked yourself and you’re refocused.

Alison Flemming:

So you’re back to being the person that you’d want to be you sort of not running on autopilot and there was some short term things that I could do to kind of re-energise myself in the meantime, like a lot of the external stuff that I had stopped because it wasn’t relevant for my role. I didn’t really need to stop. So I just started doing that again and sort of ticked a couple of my, I need to do this boxes just by doing that.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah, that’s great. That’s a really good list and I love the point about articulating to people, how they can help. And I totally agree with you. I often talk to a lot of leaders about even feedback conversations, or when you need to follow up with people, don’t tell them how you’re going to follow up, get them to tell you how they want you to follow up. Make it so that they’re part of that process too. And you don’t have to be in that crystal ball trying to work out, how do I engage with these people? How do I do this? So I think your point there about actually speaking up and telling people how they can help is such a… That’s a million dollar statement right there, I reckon for a lot of people.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

So thank you and I also love that you realised that even though that’s coming, that change is coming, you still need to do things now to stay engaged. You still have a job to do, but also and realise that you’d let go of things that you didn’t really have to let go of. And I think that’s a really great insight as well. So thank you for sharing that. So what about for the team? What about people who report to you, or at least you have some influence over, even if you don’t have direct reports, but how do you help them keep their self-leadership sparked up and ignited?

Alison Flemming:

I think it’s by trying to… I ask heaps of questions because they have the answers. I don’t have the answers and I think it’s always challenging them in their thinking to go that next level. So, you can sort of think about the seven branches of a decision tree, if you like, but if somebody says they like something, I’ll be like, well, why do you like that? What is it about that, that you like, because helping them really understand that, I guess, for me, is how I can help them form their guiding principles, if you like, which I think then is that just the basis of that self-leadership piece and always encouraging them to do more of what they love and what’s important to them and try and minimise. We’ve all got stuff that we don’t like to do, but it’s just making sure that the balance is always in favour of work that you love and that energises you.

Alison Flemming:

So, yeah. I just ask a heap of questions and probably a little bit like the small child just continually asking why? But yeah. And then just reminding them that it’s not scary, it’s empowering that they are in charge of their career and their self-leadership journey and also they care. They care more about their career than I do. And I don’t mean for that to sound like I don’t care. It’s just that at the end of the day, it’s not my career, it’s there’s. And I think sometimes people are a bit… They’ll sit back a bit too easily once they’ve articulated what a goal might be or something like that, and wait for somebody else to help them deliver on that rather than just really taking it and running with it because yeah. It impacts them more than anybody else. So-

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah, and I think a lot of people don’t do a lot of goal setting regularly. And so the energy that gets put into the actual goal setting, you do all that, you get excited by that, you put it into a pretty poster or a great PowerPoint deck, and then you go, oh, that’s done.

Alison Flemming:

Yeah.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

And then exactly, you sit back and wait. Well, we’ve just started.

Alison Flemming:

That’s the easy part.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. Yeah. And I love that you ask questions because to me there’s the asking of the questions and getting them to think them and getting them to be equally active in that conversation. But it’s also, me, I’m a bit processy and I go a bit deeper, but what I love about that is it’s you showing you value their opinion and on the other side of that is Alison cares. Alison is helping me to also care more and I think that’s awesome. So, yeah. I love that asking lots of questions.

Alison Flemming:

Yeah. It’s also just, I think sometimes you get a couple of questions and you realise my interpretation of their first answer, wasn’t really what they meant. So, yeah. I just like to clarify, so I’m really quite clear, but also yeah. Just help them understand that they are actually quite clear on their beliefs and what they’re working towards.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. I love that. Yeah. And then it give that dialogue, gives you more clarity. I love that. Yeah. Thank you. So we’re just about out of time, but I have a question I’m asking all my favourite senior leaders, and that is, what’s the one thing you wish you knew about self-leadership when you first stepped into your very first leadership role?

Alison Flemming:

Yeah. I wish I knew that it was a tool that I had all along. I just took a while to tap into it. Again, I think when you first start out in your career, you’re reliant on a lot of people, you might turn up to your first day of the job and you’re reliant on others to help you navigate through what your role is and some of those development schools that you need, but I think that self-reliance can be or the reliance can be a learned behaviour and it’s sort of, it’s learning to let go of that at the right point in time and take charge. But yeah, it was a while before I realised that self-leadership was a tool that I could use at any point in my career. And it means different things at different times. So it’s always there and yeah, I wish I’d recognised that much earlier.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

No, that’s fantastic. And thank you for sharing that. I really appreciate it. Alison, thank you so much for spending a little bit of time talking about self-leadership. Do you have any last words?

Alison Flemming:

No, just don’t be afraid of it. It’s empowering more than it’s scary.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yes and I agree. I think sometimes we have incidences that occur that aren’t so great, but on the other side of that is growth and I don’t think we should be afraid of that either. And when you’re in the midst of something horrible, don’t stop. Keep going and get through it. Yeah,

Alison Flemming:

Yeah. Absolutely.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. Well, Alison, I really appreciate your time and your wisdom and thank you very much for being on the Spark self-leadership video series.

Alison Flemming:

Oh, thanks for having me, Sally.