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Take the cocky out of boss

By Karla Dondio

A long-time leader gives Karla Dondio his recipe for success.

Early in my career, I omitted the word ‘‘ambition’’ from my lexicon. After all, it would have been un-Australian to appear anything but modest or restrained while speculating about career successes.

 Over time, though, I’ve been privy to a few great leaders in the workplace who have managed to balance ambition with grace in their career ascension. I’ve begun to concede that ambition isn’t the wily old fox that I had believed it to be. In the presence of grace, it looks more like a proud workhorse that doesn’t shy away from hard work or a challenge.

The managing director of Dairy Australia, Ian Halliday, has enjoyed a highly successful career in the food industry, with milestones including his role as production manager at SPC at the age of 23, operations manager at Kraft Foodsand chief executive officer at KR Castlemaine.

In person, Halliday is softly spoken yet decisive. He is also modest about his career, one he has clearly enjoyed and from which he continues to derive satisfaction. I am curious to hear what defines ambition for him.‘‘Ambition is about trying to achieve the best possible outcome without it having a detrimental effect on other people,’’ Halliday says. ‘‘How do you ensure you encourage people on the way? If you are ambitious, be gracious about it.’’

But speaking to Halliday at length, it becomes apparent that ambition alone is not enough to succeed. For ambition to translate into career milestones, one needs to consider the bigger picture and never baulk at hard work.

‘‘Think about where you want to go and how you want to get there,’’ he says. ‘‘Put the effort in and the results should happen, and then the rewards come. I’ve always been prepared to roll up my sleeves and not shunt the bigger issues.’’

Halliday’s career rise was illuminated by a passion to seek new opportunities and challenges. He notes that he has been given various jobs over the years to turn struggling businesses into thriving ones – jobs in which he has revelled. He says each career move he makes is carefully considered to ensure he can make a difference.

However, he is keen to point out that people need to be flexible in their career trajectory because plans do go awry. He has been in the position where he has expected a role that hasn’t eventuated. While disappointing, Halliday remains philosophical.

‘‘There’s going to be disappointments along the way but you’ve got to learn how to be flexible, because if you are too fixated on an outcome, something will come out of left field,’’ Halliday says. ‘‘You have to roll with the punches sometimes.’’

I raise the topic of aggressive leaders and Halliday accepts that there is more than one leadership style in the workplace. The aggressor is not a style that he has ever aspired to, as he believes great leadership is about trust and respect.

‘‘I think it’s about being transparent and up front with people,’’ Halliday says. ‘‘It’s providing praise where it’s required. It might be small notes to say thank you. If there are issues around performance with employees, you have an open and frank discussion so people fully understand where you’re at.’’

What advice would Halliday give someone who aspired to senior management?

‘‘People starting out today need to be patient, resilient and have self-motivation and discipline,’’ he says. ‘‘Work hard. Be mindful. And be respectful of others.’’

Published: 06 October 2012

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