Chris Gibbs Stewart reinforces how strong leadership can be the vital ingredient that steers organisations through challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Austmine chief executive officer Chris Gibbs Stewart has been with the company for nearly a decade and has held the position of CEO for more than five years.
During this time, she has helped develop and shape Austmine to become the leading industry body for the Australian mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sector.
As COVID-19 disrupts business as usual, strong leadership is more important than ever to guide businesses through disruption.
Austmine sat down with Gibbs Stewart to find out what leadership qualities she sees as essential, how to ensure your employees feel valued and her key advice for fellow and aspiring leaders.
While different leadership styles lend themselves to your own individual disposition, there are some universal key traits that all great leaders possess.
“Great leaders are inspirational, humble and great listeners,” says Gibbs Stewart.
“To be a great leader you don’t necessarily have to talk a lot because the real key is listening, quickly sifting through the noise and being able to action what is important. I also think that great leaders are great collaborators as well.”
Leading by example with exemplary behaviours is crucial, but leaders don’t need to have the same skillsets as those they lead.
“For me it’s important to be able to teach and instil in others the things that I know, but also to empower others to do more than I, myself, can do,” says Gibbs Stewart.
In addition to leading your own employees, Gibbs Stewart urges METS leaders to assist in the growth of the sector as a whole.
“In addition to championing your own people, advocate for the sector as well,” she says.
“As a leader in the METS sector, we need to be involved in important conversations in the mining industry and beyond.
“It’s important to get a seat at the table and make sure your voice is heard. This happens through networking, volunteering for committees and reaching outside of your business. You need to be hyper-connected. As a leader, this is vital.”
Communication is key
All leaders have a direct impact on their employees. Good leaders create a deep and lasting impact by providing their team with the necessary tools and support to become leaders of tomorrow.
“I’ve worked for and with a lot of good people who championed me through my career. I’m incredibly grateful for their support – for believing in me and helping me believe in my abilities,” says Gibbs Stewart.
“I still remember my very first boss in New York. George encouraged me to speak with everyone in the company, no matter how senior or how junior – from the company president to the store front manager.
“This simple task gave me confidence and set me up to be the leader I am today, because if you can’t see the whole picture and appreciate everyone’s place in it, you will not be able to effectively lead an entire organisation.”
During this volatile time, it is especially important to ensure you have time during the week to check in with your team.
Pairing your ability to communicate with active listening is essential to ensuring all team members feel seen, heard and valued.
We are in the midst of an extreme disruption with every sector being impacted by COVID-19.
While we may not know how long this unpredictability will last, it is a great opportunity to turn to past lessons as we weather this storm together.
“Over the course of my career, I have benefitted from taking on newly created roles brought about through business disruption,” says Gibbs Stewart.
“When there hasn’t been someone before you, you are forced to create your own blueprint. This allowed me to be challenged but also gave me the freedom of trying new things.
“Naturally I have developed a more entrepreneurial approach; I look for different ways of doing things and feel comfortable with questioning processes.”
COVID-19 is disrupting business as usual, so it is a great time to embrace a pioneering spirit – be brave going into the unknown but chart a path, using your experience, that will get you safely to where you are going.
Being open to new perspectives will allow you to adapt your approach to changing circumstances.
“Now more than ever, it is vital to be flexible and adaptable. Flexibility to pivot how you operate and approach your goals is key,” says Gibbs Stewart.
“Also, I encourage the METS community to look for opportunities to assist one another.
“In a recent virtual meet-up one of our members was discussing a challenge as their company strives to adopt more digital practices. Another member offered to discuss with them offline how they may be able to assist as they already have similar digital practices in place.
“It is heartening to see those who are able offering a helping hand to others during this time.”
Empowering the leaders of tomorrow
During Gibbs Stewart’s time as CEO, Austmine has overseen new initiatives to both encourage new talent to join the sector and provide leaders of tomorrow with the skills they require.
Austmine’s STEM METS Career Pathway Program is designed to raise awareness of the METS sector within the next generation of employees.
Meanwhile, the Innovation Mentoring Program guides up-and-coming METS sector leaders to gain the numerous skills required for innovators in today’s fluid market environment.
“Opening up the METS sector to STEM students is a great way of making sure the sector has the skills needed as we move forwards,” says Gibbs Stewart.
“The METS sector is oriented towards technology, so leaders should naturally be focussed on the future and creating those ideas, opportunities and ways that we can be sustainable in the future.”
While initiatives play a big part in assisting emerging talent, it is equally important for those looking to lead to seize all opportunities.
“My advice is to volunteer for everything. When something comes up at work, put your hand up,” says Gibbs Stewart.
“Get involved in committees and task forces, because that is where you can develop the necessary leadership skills to help progress your career forward.
“This time of disruption is the perfect time to show your versatility and assist your company as they need to change.”
“Austmine is committed to supporting our members wherever possible and to offer assistance through challenging business conditions,” Gibbs Stewart concludes.
“At a time like this it is even more important to advocate for the sector and ensure we can fully embrace what the recovery brings. As always, we will continue to promote the Australian METS sector and boost its profile around the world.”
This article also appears in the May issue of Australian Mining.