Suncorp CEO drops mask on leadership

Geoff Summerhayes, chief executive of Suncorp Life, used to be somewhat sceptical of colleagues with family pictures on their desks as he rose up the ranks from Lend Lease to MLC and senior executive roles at NAB.

Certainly his own growing family and early career managing and developing nightclubs in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne were not subjects he felt comfortable chatting about freely at work.

Speaking at the AB+F Randstad Leaders Lecture Series in Sydney on Thursday night, Summerhayes credited his early experience at Lend Lease with shaping his future career but also instilling the need to create a different persona as a leader.

"At the time it didn't feel like a radical thing, to go from running nightclubs to being the CEO of a life company. That seemed like a logical progression. But I can see, at a higher level, that nightclubs to life insurance, it isn't the most common path," he said.

"While my career developed and I was fortunate to find myself in more and more senior roles, probably at more and more conservative organisations, so too did my leadership style start to tighten."

Although not aware of it at the time, Summerhayes said he was putting on a persona according to what he thought was expected of him in each role.

Peeling back the layers

In an honest and forthright address under the banner “How removing a mask can liberate a leader”, he revealed that it was only after being appointed CEO of Suncorp Life in 2008 and working with a life coach that he realised the power of effective leadership.

"The most powerful lever in business transformation is leadership," he said. "Leadership has a multiplier or disproportionate effect on every other lever that you can pull in a business. Strategy, business models, good people, accountability, scorecards, processes, all those things are important. But leadership has a multiplier effect on all of these factors, both in the positive and negative."

Summerhayes realised that his own "stiff and at times autocratic" leadership style would have to evolve if the business was going to move forward.

"I was wearing a mask of somebody that I didn't think was authentically me," he said. "I needed to start peeling back the mask and showing a more authentic part of myself. By this I mean greater personal reveal, seeking personal reveal from others and trying to be a more accessible leader."

For a full report on how Summerhayes went about applying this process to his senior management team, see the October issue of AB+F magazine.

Insurance, Your Career,
Geoff Summerhayes, Suncorp Life, Lend Lease, MLC, NAB, nighclubs, leadership
Andrew Starke,
Article Posted:
September 16, 2013

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