ACC Australia retreat features leadership masterclass

ACC Australia retreat features leadership masterclass
Attendees at the ACC Australia executive retreat in Noosa

The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Australia hosted a reflective and intensive executive retreat with senior legal counsels from across Australian business at Peppers Noosa Resort & Villas on 2-4 September, providing a networking opportunity.

During the retreat, Stephen Scheeler, a TED speaker and former CEO of Facebook in Australia and New Zealand (2013-2017), delivered to around 20 attendees the eight key pillars of leadership, namely vision, humility, curiosity, transparency, data dexterity, customer obsession and speed. Scheeler is currently the CEO of brain mapping company Omniscient Neurotechnology in Sydney.

“The retreat was a wonderful opportunity to take time to reflect, connect with other general counsels and learn from a well-respected and inspiring leader, Stephen Scheeler,” Joanne Keen, non-executive director at Australian Sailing and former general counsel at Queensland Rail in Brisbane, who attended the retreat, told Asia Business Law Journal.

“Leadership is not about position or title – it is about service to others. As leaders, we have the responsibility and privilege of doing all that we can to ensure that our people and our organisations are set up for success. Leadership is more important than ever to guide our people and our organisations in an ever-changing world.”

Chris O’Callaghan, director of HFW Consulting in London who came all the way to the southern hemisphere to join the retreat, observed that as the world has seen a sequence of business disruptors in the past few years, global leaders are being looked on to take immediate action. HFW Consulting and HFW Australia sponsored the retreat.

“For those charged with leading legal functions, these business disruptors have and continue to push the expectations organisations have of them, and in many cases requiring a step change in the leadership agenda,” said O’Callaghan.

“The retreat provided a fantastic opportunity to spend time with senior counsel, further developing our understanding of their role, challenges and enabling me to consider what more can be done to support them as the world around them changes.”

From the conversations with leading in-house counsel, O’Callaghan saw similarities in the challenges that leaders are facing, yet the nuances of organisational culture shape these similarities differently. Disruption is coming from all directions and it is often legal leaders who are being asked to deal with many of these challenges, resulting in a significant reduction in the amount of legal work these individuals actually perform.

“As roles change, I remain continually surprised that these capabilities are expected rather than supported and that individuals leading these functions often comment on the loneliness of their roles,” said O’Callaghan. “As businesses continue to evolve, and with it the role of leading counsel, I am increasingly curious as to what extent do these leaders actually need formal legal training when their roles are focusing more and more on the wider issues of leadership.”

Keen added that the disruption businesses have faced in the past couple of years has required general counsel to be more curious, creative, flexible and caring to help the teams and organisation to thrive. This has required general counsel to create a positive vision for the future, be a driver for change around environmental, social and corporate governance and culture, and to look ahead and respond quickly and with agility with a customer-focused mindset.

“Data, analytics and artificial intelligence are becoming great tools for us to interpret the changes we are facing,” said Keen. “This information is important to ensure that it we make it easy for teams and our business partners to navigate our changing environment and remove any barriers to success – it is not just about being great lawyers, it is about being inspirational and caring leaders.”

When being asked about the biggest takeaway from the retreat, Keen said that as leaders, it is important for general counsel to take the time to understand the people in their lives, both outside work and within, and how to enable them to recognise and use their strengths and bring the best of themselves to work.

“By understanding the eight key pillars of leadership, I now have a framework to help me be a better leader, create excitement and energy for the future,” said Keen.

O’Callaghan agreed that the pillars of leadership focused on at the retreat are increasingly relevant as leaders look to the future.

“The retreat provided a fantastic opportunity to understand more about the changing landscape of the in-house function and in particular the role of leading counsel,” said O’Callaghan. “While it was, of course, great to continue to build my business network, on a personal level I continually look to develop my leadership approach and Stephen provoked both curiosity and reflection.”