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Simone Tilley on the hallmarks of standout leadership 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.

There’s just as much to learn as there is to impart as a judge at The CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards. Just ask ANZ’s General Manager Corporate Bank, Institutional Simone Tilley, who’s picking up the gavel and wig for the first time.

“It’s truly a privilege to hear from the top brass of Australian CEOs,” she says. “It’s a unique opportunity to learn from the very best; learn from their relentless pursuits and how they’ve galvanised others to have belief in their dreams, which enables them to build successful models at scale.”

A 12-year veteran of ANZ and a dynamic force in the bank’s broker division, Tilley has ensured her own leadership is defined by her strong set of values, particularly regarding gender equality. 

“I believe in strong values-based leadership, acting with integrity, treating others with respect, and importance of equality and fairness,” she says. “I’m motivated by setting bold, ambitious goals as well as mapping clear executional pathways to get there.”

Indeed, Tilley’s career is full of significant milestones that reflect her commitment to this philosophy. “Nothing in my mind ever beats leading by example, setting the pace for others to follow.”

Her journey began in agribusiness, where she found herself as one of very few women in what was, at the time, a man’s world. In 2018, she co-founded ANZ’s Doyenne Program, designed to give female brokers greater representation and support in the industry. 

“I see value in creating strong psychological safety by inviting diversity and inclusion across the business, so that we can welcome colliding perspectives and challenge the status quo respectfully,” she says.

Having been there and done that has given Tilley a sharp eye when it comes to spotting standout qualities in her fellow leaders.

“I look for leaders that have a strong why. The very best of leaders genuinely love what they do, and I always look for deep passion and a clear purpose,” she says. “Standout leaders are also great at reading the play and also reading people. They’re deeply curious, self-aware, authentic, visionary and strategic in nature.”

Assessing the performance of one’s peers has been made tougher by the COVID-19 pandemic. The event, although for many the worst of times, has become an opportunity for business leaders to step-up and take charge. 

Standout leaders are also great at reading the play and also reading people. They’re deeply curious, self-aware, authentic, visionary and strategic in nature.

“COVID-19 has been an interesting curve ball for everyone, but especially the business community,” Tilley says. “I’m interested to hear how the very best have pivoted and adapted in such a fast-changing landscape.”

Once-in-a-generation healthcare crises aside, it’s the everyday challenges – and how they’re handled – that help forge a leader, a process Tilley believes is constantly evolving. 

“Daily energy is finite, so I’ve become more circumspect around what is energy accretive and decretive, and ultimately what constitutes greatest value,” she says.

“When things are out of balance, I deliberately recalibrate, which is not only about time, but stakeholder management, diet and exercise.”

Today’s leadership models are a far cry from the ‘do as I say’ examples of the past, but Tilley says there’s a trick to striking the right balance between delegation and abdication. “I believe in the power of empowerment, but it works fluidly and easily when there’s strong communication linkages and sensible accountability disciplines in place.”

The very best of leaders genuinely love what they do, and I always look for deep passion and a clear purpose.

But choosing how best to communicate – and the right moment to do so – is becoming a regular part of life at the top, a feeling Tilley understands all too well.

“Often our diaries are so full, there’s no time for thinking. I’m becoming more discerning about questioning whether I really need to be in certain meetings so that I can create space for more visionary, strategic conversations.”

With the ups and downs of business leadership firmly front of mind for Tilley, she’s keen to acknowledge those peers she feels have done the best job in navigating what can be very dicey waters.

“After COVID-19, more than ever, our business community deserves to be duly recognised for everything that it continues to deliver across our great country,” she says.

The best way to do so, Tilley adds, is through the 2022 Executive of the Year Awards. “As an avid reader of The CEO Magazine, nobody does it better,” she says. “These awards are an inspiration to the Australian business community and a strong benchmark of what great looks like.

“Even simply applying is an opportunity to reflect, which is always time very well spent.”

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