Former Sportsgirl CEO Colleen Callander made the bold decision at the age of 16 to work in the fashion industry instead of following the traditional route and finishing her education. Although she had great role models in her life, there was one thing she wishes she could have had back then: a guidebook.
“At the age of 18, I managed my first retail store,” she remembers. “I so wish I had a book like ELEVATE back then with advice from women with lived experiences, sharing their successes, failures, and learnings.”
Going from a role as a summer casual straight to full-time work paid off for Callander, who became a state manager by the age of 24, overseeing 54 stores. In 1999, she began working for Sportsgirl and would be there for the next 20 years, 13 of which she would serve as CEO.
Early on in her career, Callander set an intention to embody the qualities of a leader that people didn’t just have to, but would want to follow.
“My style over my entire leadership life has been a very different style to what I’ve encountered in a lot of other leaders,” she admits. “I really wish that we had a lot more leaders in this country that people choose to follow because a lot of leaders, people do what they say because they sit in the big chair in the corner office and they get the biggest pay packet in the company.
“But are they someone that people really choose to follow? Would they follow them into the darkness? Would they do things that they never thought they could do?”
The truth about profit
With that in mind, Shannah Kennedy emerged into the picture as the Strategic Life Coach whom Callander enlisted for herself and her entire executive team at the time.
“It was a real investment into the team,” Kennedy adds. “And so the team performed exceptionally well, and there was no staff turnover. The profits were made, people didn’t mind working back.”
It was this ‘culture of care’ that laid the foundation for a circle of safety to occur – the backbone of any high-performance team to be able to excel.
“Culture’s not easy to create,” Callander says. “It’s damn hard. But when you create a culture that people want to show up to every day, that’s when the results shine through.”
“What we’re doing is bringing all of the high-performance skills that athletes have used for years and years and years, and bringing them into the workplace.” – Shannah Kennedy
As a former Sponsorship Manager, Kennedy had seen her fair share of what she describes as “the dark side of sport”. From observing how athletes moved through the various stages of their careers, she noticed the gaps in how they dealt with the less glamorous aspects of being a high-profile athlete: early retirement, injuries, burnout and job loss. These are some of the very same challenges that professionals hailing from other industries similarly face.
“There were over a hundred athletes in my stable, and I had the Jerry Maguire job of buying and selling athletes, so to speak, and getting them into product,” she explains.
Since carving a niche herself as a Master Life Strategist more than 20 years ago and coaching a wide range of professionals, including athletes, Kennedy noticed that clarity and recovery were two of the elements often missing in the lives of high-achievers.
“High-performing individuals often have a lack of clarity,” she says. “What they do is they get on the hamster wheel, they work really hard, they work hard to get to the top, and then right at the end there, when you get to the top, they actually think, ‘Oh, I haven’t actually stopped and really thought everything through. Doors opened and I found myself here, but I actually didn’t plan it. So now I have to create a plan’.”
Kennedy also points out how industries often have voids created by people who have left simply because the balance wasn’t there and they had not built recovery into their regime.
The dream team
The CEO and her coach knew that with their combined experience and knowledge they could cherry-pick the most relevant skills any human being at any life stage could use to elevate themselves and those around them.
“What we’re doing is bringing all of the high-performance skills that athletes have used for years and years, and bringing them into the workplace, putting their planners on the wall, doing the affirmation work, setting the boundaries, deciding what kind of leader you want to be, creating the culture that you want, to really building your own brand, knowing your values, your vision, your strengths,” explains Kennedy.
While Kennedy has helped high-achievers pivot into new careers, Callander has observed the best and worst traits of the leaders that have crossed her path, and this has seeped into the book and its teachings.
In a nutshell, their new book Elevate: unlock your extraordinary potential is a practical guide based on three fundamental pillars – life, leadership and longevity – that’s designed for people to master the skills required to lead purposeful and fulfilling lives.
The three pillars explained
Pillar 1: Life
Embracing ownership and empowerment in your journey.
Pillar 2: Leadership
Embracing the power of influence to lead with purpose.
Pillar 3: Longevity
Embracing the foundation of health and a feeling of fulfillment as the keys to lasting success in life.
“When they do that and get those in a nice balance and working in flow, that’s really where the fulfillment and the success and the joy starts to happen,” Callander says.
“People don’t want to read a whole book on leadership or a whole book on burn-out or a whole book on values,” she explains.
“It’s just far too heavy. The attention span is not there. So, we’ve condensed it into really punchy educational pieces, really punchy stories, and then we’re asking you just to own it and run with it.”
For those who aren’t a fan of New Year’s resolutions or investing in a personal coach, the book offers a refreshing perspective on leadership and tweaking what you’re already doing in order to elevate, irrespective of the context or the title a person holds.
“Through the book, we’re asking you to think about what are the small changes that you can make for big impact,” Kennedy says. “So, high-performance is all about fine-tuning, and I think a lot of people think it’s about big sweeping changes and ‘I’m not ready to do that.’ It’s a big shift for people and it’s an education. It’s an education because I think a lot of people don’t understand high-performance sport.”
At the heart of their message is that self-leadership is the gate-way into leading others.
“Great leadership starts with self, great leadership starts with the way we lead ourselves, the boundaries, the structures, the discipline, the self-care, the habits that we build into our own lives. And I only believe that we can lead others when we’re leading ourselves first,” Callander explains.
So, for readers who are keen to create the kind of culture that Callander and Kennedy are advocating or who are contemplating their leadership legacy, what can you expect?
“Great leadership starts with self. Great leadership starts with the way we lead ourselves, the boundaries, the structures, the discipline, the self-care, the habits that we build into our own lives.” – Colleen Callander
“The benefits are huge, absolutely huge,” Callander says with a smile. “It’s like compound interest, right? The benefits are huge over a long period of time. When we commit to making and sticking to those changes, then the outcomes are absolutely incredible in all of our areas of life and leadership and longevity.”
As the conversation draws to a close, Callander and Kennedy offer up their most sage advice for the year ahead.
“I would say if there’s one lesson or one bit of advice it would be to implement boundaries. Because boundaries are all about protecting the asset. And the asset is you. You are the most important person in this world,” Callander says.
“I would say create your vision, because there is so much distraction in the world at the moment, and the pace is so fast that you need to actually do a high-performance habit, which is sitting down and planning correctly,” Kennedy notes. “Where do you want to be in 10 years’ time? And really tapping into your 10-year-old self, which is your role model.”