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Jannine Fraser on the benefits of social gatherings in 2022

The CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards ceremony has many different meanings for attendees. Some see it as a celebration of the at-times unsung work of those at the top; others as a chance to shine a spotlight on worthy causes.

Jannine Fraser

For Jannine Fraser, Managing Director of Directioneering Group and part of this year’s Executive of the Year judging panel, the Executive of the Year Awards is a valuable opportunity to connect in a time when interpersonal connections have lapsed.

“COVID-19 blessed us with a unique set of challenges,” she says. “When you have an organisation that’s so collegiate and collaborative, and then suddenly everybody’s working from home, it has been a huge task for a lot of leaders in Australia to maintain culture in that disparate working environment.”

While some businesses have returned to the office, many have not. But as COVID-19 restrictions continue to recede, in-person events such as the Executive of the Year Awards are becoming more frequent, and provide a chance to reconnect on a personal level. Fraser believes it’s a chance worth seizing.

“It’s been so long since I’ve connected face-to-face with a group of inspiring and emerging leaders,” she says.

“It’s become quite easy throughout COVID-19 to opt out of things, and there’s an enormous downside to that. We need to connect with people and derive the benefit and energy of forming new relationships. You can’t do that on Zoom.”

In her role at Directioneering, Fraser is used to bringing people together. Organisations and businesses of all sizes, as well as government agencies, rely on Directioneering to create custom career strategies, coaching and change management.

“We connect or reconnect people to meaningful work, usually at the executive end,” Fraser says. “So if someone’s retrenched or moved out of an organisation, there’s a real process of helping them recalibrate before they look for another job. That concept of reflecting deeply before you hit the job market is a real hallmark of the work that we do.”

While it can be tempting to jump back into the employment pool the moment you’ve lost your job, Fraser says it pays to be strategic. “We’ve supported more than 20,000 people through job change over the past 20 years,” she says.

“I think whether or not you win is almost immaterial. It’s the fact that it really does compel people to reflect quite deeply on who they are as leaders.”

“And interestingly, I’d say about 45 per cent of executives consider self-employment or consulting work rather than the standard sort of corporate career if they find themselves out of work at that point in their career. But once they look into it, the majority decide to re-enter corporate. Less than 25 per cent of people go through a complete career change.”

Being in the business of helping people means Fraser and her team are quite considered in the way they work. “I’ve always taken the approach of hiring people that I thought were better than me at most things, and as a result the team is so capable and collaborative,” she says.

“Most people don’t leave Directioneering; they retire because they love their work. It’s a delight leading a business like this, I feel very lucky.”

During her two decades with the company, Fraser says she’s seen some diverse approaches to management. “I don’t think there’s any one formula for great leadership, but some of the prevailing characteristics are courage, compassion, inclusion and maintaining an authentic voice,” she says.

“You also have to be able to make some tough and at times unpopular decisions.”

Though there’s much to gain from leading, Fraser says an unintentional consequence of being at the helm of a company is isolation. With that being the case, the Executive of the Year Awards ceremony is, she adds, an ideal forum to share ideas and provide support to a network of few.

“It’s rare in Australia to have something like the Executive of the Year Awards,” she says. “I think leadership in any organisation can be in equal measure exhilarating and incredibly lonely, so this is a great way to highlight the importance of a peer group.”

In both her day-to-day work with Directioneering and her capacity as a member of The CEO Circle, Fraser derives enormous benefit from gathering to hear other people’s leadership stories and being able to speak openly about what’s happening in one’s business. The CEO Magazine’s annual awards night is a natural extension of that, she adds.

“I think whether or not you win is almost immaterial. It’s the fact that it really does compel people to reflect quite deeply on who they are as leaders,” she says.

“That in itself is very powerful. On top of that you have the fact that it’s getting people together and they’re coincidentally building a broader network of peers. I’m really looking forward to it.”

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