Cindy Hook's six tips for leadership


As the first female CEO of an Australian Big Four accounting firm, Cindy Hook is at the forefront of change. Whether she likes it or not, since she started in the top job in 2015, her gender has made the headlines. Luckily for the next generation of female leaders, Cindy has used this attention and momentum to lead conversations, seamlessly bringing together her impressive business credentials with a fresh and innovative approach.

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to see Cindy present on her six qualities of great leaders at the BOSS Emerging Leaders event.

Having started my career in professional services, I was interested to hear more about Cindy's journey to the top in a male dominated world. It was an evening well spent: Cindy was engaging and open, and I left the evening feeling inspired. I also found myself wondering if my career path would have been different if we had more leaders like Cindy?

While sometimes tips from CEOs can seem so irrelevant to someone at the start of their career, Cindy's tips definitely apply to everyone.

Ready to be inspired? Here are Cindy Hook's six tips for leadership.

1. Know yourself

Knowing yourself, and understanding what is really important to you, is critical for authentic leadership... no matter what stage of your career you are at.

Cindy suggested that we take the time to write out our core values, even though they might seem obvious. Taking the time to reflect on what is important to you will help you to lead by example.

Cindy's value revolve around vitality, and a life long commitment to health and wellbeing. A simple reminder to all of us that our ability to lead is directly tied to our own physical and mental wellbeing, perhaps?

2. Work hard and deliver proven results

Surprise! Cindy doesn't believe that there is any substitute for hard work.

Cindy noted that it's not just about the hours that you put in, it's about delivering consistent and proven results. Every progression that Cindy has made in her career was on the back of delivering results.

It was refreshing to hear Cindy acknowledge the years of hard work she had put in to get to the top job. As a society, we are becoming increasingly impatient: we want it all, and we want it now. If you are feeling like your career progression isn't going as fast as you would like, remember Cindy's advice. You need to deliver to get new roles, and then stay in the them... and deliver some more!

3. Be loyal to your organisation

It's rare these days for people to work at one organisation for their entire career. Cindy began her career as an auditor in San Francisco, moving her way up the corporate ladder in the US before moving to Australia in 2009.

Cindy referenced research by the Harvard Business Review on female CEOs, and interestingly the most common trait of these leaders was their tenure. Cindy has obviously had an outstanding career at Deloitte, but I can't help but think that this advice won't work for everyone. If you are completely stuck, or feel like there is no progression where you are currently at, then perhaps it's time to move on. Or perhaps your loyalty hasn't been rewarded? This is a tricky one.

Cindy did acknowledge these challenges and summed up with a very valid point: before you make a change, think about approaching your current employer to see if there's a new role that exposes you to a different aspect of the business. In a world where businesses and roles are continually being redefined, you never know, your next big thing might be closer than you think.

4. Build a great team around you

Great leaders are supported by great teams. Cindy recommends finding the people that know the most about the things that you don't know as much about... and then ask questions and take their input.

I love the Cindy acknowledged that she doesn't know everything. Cindy's valuable leadership lesson came when she was promoted in Australia: in a new environment, there was obviously a lot to learn.

At the start of your career, you don't get much of a say about the team that you have around you. But there's still an important lessons here: build up your support network of people that you admire and will help you. And don't forget: if the CEO of Deloitte is comfortable acknowledging that she doesn't know everything, you can admit it too!

5. Get global experience

Future leaders will have global perspective, and Cindy encourages everyone to get global experience.

But I can't move right now I hear you say! If it's not possible to get global experience right now, I think Cindy's point about having global perspective is still very relevant. If you can work on a project with a more global outlook at work, that's great. But if you can't, taking the time to upskill yourself and stay on top of trends in your industry will help set you apart.

[Related post: Read my recent post on tips for Law Graduates here]

6. Make yourself future ready

Finally, Cindy acknowledged the number of industries that are being fundamentally disrupted. Over the course of our careers, the world will shift around us.. and we need to be ready.

Core technical skills will be important for future leaders: Cindy believes that we have to have something that we are known for. But on top of our technical skills, we have to have broader skills. The ability to change, drive change and adapt. The ability to be able to collaborate and solve problems.

So how we will do this? It's really up to us. We need to invest in our learning and development, and have the curiosity and interest to learn more and understand more.

I attended the Emerging Leaders talk with Cindy Hook hosted by the BOSS Magazine and The University of Sydney Business School. For more information on the program, or for information about the upcoming Emerging Leaders talk with Margaret Zhang (Shine By Three) and Simon Rossi (Ubereats) click here.

Photo of Cindy Hook from BOSS Emerging Leaders.