6 September 2020 |
This month, we launch the Leaders Matter podcast series, featuring ECA Alumni speaking about the contemporary leadership experience…
New episodes in the series are published weekly.
On our premiere episode, leadership as snorkelling and working through imposter syndrome during COVID-19 are some of the reflections of ECA Alumnus Zane Ali.
Zane is one of the just two per cent of professionals under the age of 30 in Australia to hold executive level roles in a mid-to-large organisation and subsequently, CEO roles under the age of 35.
As interim CEO at MS Queensland for the past 10 months, Zane successfully led the not-for-profit disability service agency through the initial months of COVID-19 in Queensland.
Enrolments are now open for our upcoming programs. Follow the links below for program information and how to enrol, or contact us.
- The 2021 Masterclass Series commencing in February.
- The 2020/21 intake of our Executive and Emerging Leaders programs.
Listen now to the premiere episode of Leaders Matter, featuring Zane Ali.
Zane credits his ability to deploy different leadership styles in different contexts as a key element of his leadership success through the pandemic.
“I think most people will have a dominant leadership style that they’ll naturally default to,” says Zane. “But I think the people that have been most successful leading through the pandemic have been those that have multiple different leadership styles that they can call upon in different situations.”
Context is king and being able to assess a situation and make a choice on the leadership style required in that moment is what can define a successful leader.
“Historically, I looked at directive leadership as very much command and control and authority, and it was something to be feared,” says Zane. “But there is a place for that style of leadership, particularly through pandemics, and if it’s done in the right way it can be quite effective. So I’ve really been thinking about a lot about different types of leadership during different periods of time, questioning what is good and what works.”
COVID-19 has been a defining moment for Zane’s leadership, impacting when he was 3 months into the role of his first CEO appointment, as interim CEO with MS Queensland. At first he wasn’t sure how big the impact would be on Australia. And then he heard that Queensland Health were planning for the Brisbane Showgrounds to become a spillover hospital.
“That really hit home for me,” says Zane, who pulled together the senior leaders of MS Queensland to brainstorm the business continuity impacts and mitigations, establishing a task force dedicated to responding to COVID-19. “That was the best thing that we possibly could have done facing the pandemic because we have remained a week or two ahead of every development and recommendation that has come through government and public health advice.”
Zane framed up his COVID-19 task force as a “playing field” for his senior leaders then watched them deliver across their portfolios.
“For my leaders, giving them a safe place to fail has been extremely beneficial for our organisation,” says Zane. “It has resulted in a substantial amount of agility and innovation that has come through.”
There is a leadership metaphor that has stuck with Zane from a former boss and mentor; that the role of a leader is a bit like snorkelling.
“The analogy is that you’re going across the surface, and every now and then you need to dive deep and get into the detail,” says Zane. “But if you stay down there, you’re going to drown. You need to stay calm, stay on the surface and every now and then dive deep.”
Holding this holistic focus and getting comfortable with ambiguity in fact provided an anchor to get through the uncertainty that COVID-19 presented.
“I think there’s this perception in terms of leadership that you need to be definitive with your direction and you need to be definitive with your decision making,” says Zane. What he found was that his team were adaptable to ambiguity once it had been named by the leadership. “People were very receptive to that,” he says. “Being able to call it out up front, help people understand that, well, it’s not indecisive decision making. It’s actually the situation that we’re facing. That was really interesting to observe, because I had thought that people needed that decisive decision making. But actually people are okay with ambiguity if you call it out.”
It might be a surprise that such a young success story has wrestled with imposter syndrome. Leading through COVID-19 has given Zane increased confidence to challenge that self-doubt.
“I think a lot of people struggle with this,” says Zane. “Am I good enough? Should I be in this position? I think there’s always that self-doubt. A little bit of self-doubt is always a good thing, I think that it helps you continuously analyse your decisions and ensure that you’re staying humble in your leadership approach. But I think that what I’ve learned about myself during (COVID-19) has given me an element of confidence in my ability to be able to unite and galvanize a group of people to lead through to a common objective.”
High emotional intelligence, well roundedness, cross-functional capability and an ability to collaborate are the stand out leadership qualities that Zane seeks out personally and in others.
“If I was to look at surrounding myself with a really solid leadership team, I would be looking for those leaders that had that in their DNA, that cross functional leadership capability and to be able to lead in any area.”
Collaboration and nurturing the emotional intelligence of leaders is a primary focus of ECA programs. Zane started with ECA over 5 years ago when he was Chief Financial Officer of Multicultural Australia (formerly MDA). He credits ECA with helping him evolve his self-reflection which in turn has helped him overcome doubt and take on new opportunities with confidence and purpose.
“It’s one of the distinguishing factors that has helped me be successful in my career and probably sets me apart from other leaders,” he says. “I can critically analyze my own leadership style and I’ve learnt to be very self-reflective. That really came from being exposed to world-renowned speakers through the Executive Challenge Academy on topics like leading with wisdom and visioning for the future.”
Like many ECA Alumni, Zane highlights the ECA Alumni Network as a key resource to augment his personal leadership journey.
“There’s certain people that went through (the Executive Challenge Academy) that I have a connection with who are now leading different types of not-for-profits throughout Queensland,” says Zane. “And throughout the whole pandemic, I was able to touch base with them on a regular basis……to help build capacity across the NFP sector, sharing information and strategies. That’s definitely one of the big benefits that I’ve reaped from the Executive Challenge Academy.”
Listen Now to the premiere episode of Leaders Matter, featuring Zane Ali.
About Zane Ali
As the Executive General Manager for Corporate Services and former interim Chief Executive Officer of MS Queensland, Zane is passionate about innovating the way traditional services are delivered and challenging the status quo. He’s a highly-regarded industry leader, known for promoting social and community growth, development and cohesion.
With more than 15 years’ experience, Zane has a proven track record in Executive leadership roles, overseeing Corporate Services and Business Development functions in the Aged Care, Refugee, Multicultural and Disability service sectors. Zane’s strong leadership and amiable nature have been the catalyst for him becoming one of the just two per cent of professionals under the age of 30 in Australia to hold executive level roles in a mid-to-large organisation and subsequently, CEO roles under the age of 35.
In addition, Zane has participated in Executive Challenge Academy programs as a leader, committed to his own ongoing growth and learning, but also to the ongoing development of others. In handing forward to others, he has built local networks of senior leaders, committed to supporting future leaders. Zane has been a sponsor, a learning partner and a presenter of his own leadership story.