Stacey Ashley leadership coach

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Meet The Australian AllBright Elevator Coaches: Stacey Ashley On What It Takes To Lead

“I had always wanted to be the CEO”, Stacey Ashley says, “and then it just wasn’t important anymore.”

For the leadership and coaching expert, and author of three bestselling books on leadership, it was a lightbulb moment as she realised she had outgrown her own dream. Instead, she realised, she wanted to coach others, empowering them to step up and step out as the next leaders. 

Now with over 30 years experience, Stacey has identified three key attributes that she sees in leaders in every field. And she tells us exactly what they are. She also tells us why she believes being a ‘heart-centred’ leader makes you a better one. 

And she identifies a majorly overlooked challenge for anyone who navigated the choppy waters of 2020 and 2021 in a leadership role. “Every leader, no matter what your role, is a finite resource. And you've got to spend yourself really wisely”, she says. “As the saying goes, you can't pour from an empty cup, and I think one of the things that a lot of leaders let get away from them in 2020, was actually giving themselves permission to have some downtime, some recovery time, and to replenish, because they were trying to support at all the people around them and make decisions and in really challenging circumstances.” It’s something she discusses in her latest book, .  

Of course, part of taking care of yourself is knowing how and what to prioritise. “Great leaders in emergency and crisis and turbulence do three things really well”, Stacey explains. “The first one is that they focus specifically and only on the important, so they don't do busy work. They just do the things that are really going to make a difference.”

“The second thing is communication. We've got to communicate and it has to be consistent and regular and transparent.” No surprises there.

“And the third thing is that they build capability, which might be a surprise, but we need to build capability for people to actually cope with what is going on now, and also for the future. That capability gives people the confidence to contribute. If we want solutions and we want a strategic direction to go forward and we want to simply survive what's happening, we need our people feeling like they can actually contribute and participate and make a difference.”

“Every leader, no matter what your role, is a finite resource. And you've got to spend yourself really wisely”

Stacey Ashley

But what if you’re not yet in a leadership position – how do you know if you have what it takes to be a leader? It’s a question many women face as they hit that all important mid-career phase. Because leadership isn’t just about having the experience, and it isn’t even just about being able to do your job really well. Instead, Stacey says that it’s about knowing how to empower others to bring out their best.

“Often people in leadership roles get promoted because they're good at what they do. And the challenge is to actually let go of what they were doing in that role, so that they can then elevate to the next level. And the way to let go of that and to stop being the expert at whatever it was, is to coach your people so that they can become the experts.” 

And according to Stacey, it’s not just a matter of leading by example. Instead, she says, “if you as a leader are not coaching, you're missing out on that opportunity for you all to develop accountability, and a high level of capability, and to actually elevate your own leadership. So, when you are coaching, you don't need to know the answer, you need to know the question.”

Contrary to the stereotypes, Stacey doesn’t believe that good leadership is about being able to divorce yourself from your team or make the cold hard decisions. “When I first started working, it was ‘leave the emotions at the door, you are at work’”, she recalls. “We sort of operated from the neck up, what you brought to work was your head, and you applied all your great thinking and cognition and everything to work. But what that meant is we miss out on the resources of the rest of the human. If I'm just using my head brain, I could come up with a really great solution for a problem, perhaps. And it might be a great solution in isolation, but when I put it in the context of the community of people, the organisation, the impact on the industry and so on - it may not be valuable at all.”

But this culture is changing, thanks to a more holistic approach to leadership which Stacey describes as ‘heart centred’. “When I say ‘heart centered leadership’, it is actually about being able to come from a whole person perspective. If we don't have that balance of head and heart, and in fact gut, then we're not necessarily doing the right things in the right way at the right time. As a heart based leader, when you make those tough decisions, you do it in acknowledgement and understanding of the impact that it's going to have rather than in isolation, and I think it makes you a better leader.”

So, are there any standout qualities she sees in leaders across the board? 

“I find leaders have a couple of things that are really, really key. One is that while they may hold a leadership role, it's not an entitlement - it's a privilege. And they take that responsibility fairly seriously, which is not that they don't have fun, but that they honour the responsibility.”

“The other thing that I find for really genuine leaders is that when they make decisions and choices and map out strategy and whatever their role entails, they consider aspects in multiple perspectives. So there's this perspective of self, because I need to look after myself as a leader, so that I can keep contributing. But is it going to be good and effective for my tribe, my people, and also for the world that I operate in? There's always that breadth of perspective that comes in when they're doing what leaders do.”

To anyone looking to step into the next phase of their career, and perhaps try on a leadership role for size, Stacey’s key advice is all about connection.

“Be really deliberate about fostering connection, because there was such a loss of connection for lots of reasons over the last 18 months. The people who have really strong relationships and connections in addition to their immediate vicinity are the ones who do have the greatest level of support, and connectivity, and resource potential, and insight, and all of those things. And they just do better generally in all aspects of their work and life.”

And as the women’s career network, well, we couldn’t agree more.

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