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Business leaders can feel isolated with nowhere to turn for advice or support – which is what inspired Jason Tunbridge to co-found the Leadership Think Tank. He and three members discuss the benefits of speaking out.
Jason Tunbridge co-founded the Leadership Think Tank to help business leaders share advice and support. He and three members discuss the benefits of regular, confidential, peer-group discussions.
It’s lonely at the top – and that’s what spurred Jason Tunbridge and Craig Purcell to develop the Leadership Think Tank. “It’s become a bit of a cliché but it’s still true that many chief executive officers (CEOs) and business owners suffer from a sense of isolation,” says Tunbridge. “They’re responsible for making most, if not all, of the major decisions and, at the same time, their employees are looking to them for guidance and direction – so who can they turn to for advice?” The Leadership Think Tank groups create an environment where business leaders can speak freely with their peers. “They can tap into decades of collective wisdom and experience – and they also have the support of people who understand the issues they face every day,” says Tunbridge.
Members attend regular half-day and full-day meetings and also have bimonthly coaching or mentoring sessions with the group chair. “Our group chairs all have extensive experience as CEOs,” says Tunbridge. “They facilitate the groups and, in the one-to-one sessions, they help members gain clarity around their goals and challenges. They also hold members accountable for their actions.” Stephen Thompson, Managing Director of Allworth Homes, finds this ‘call to accountability’ particularly beneficial. For those in positions of power, it’s often a relief to have someone to answer to. “If we’re completely honest, I think we all have times when we let things slide because there’s no-one to answer to but ourselves,” he says. “I’ve found that being accountable to the Chair really helps push me along. I’m hesitant to call him a business coach because I’ve rejected offers from about a hundred over the years on the basis that I didn’t need what they had to offer. But, at Think Tank, I effectively have an advisory board, a confidant and a coach.”
Each group is assembled so that every member can benefit. “It’s not a question of simply paying a fee and coming along,” says Tunbridge. “Everyone who joins must bring a level of experience or expertise which is at least the equivalent of the other members’. We’re also very strong on maintaining the integrity of the groups, and introducing someone who isn’t a good fit would affect that. For example, everyone is sworn to confidentiality because the real value lies in being able to talk openly about anything from your financials to plans for a merger or even a personal problem. Some people aren’t comfortable with that level of disclosure.”
When PDP Fine Foods Pty Ltd was in a phase of rapid growth and expansion, Founder and CEO Paul Polly sought advice from the group as a whole. “I was about to spend a little over $12 million on building a new plant and I wanted to hear the other members’ views on fast growth,” he says. “We had a round table discussion where they shared their experiences, made suggestions and advised me on what to look out for. It was great to hear so many different opinions, even if some of the members thought I was mad! The fact that people have very different leadership styles means you get a good spread of advice. And it’s really important that you can speak so openly – part of the deal is that there will never be a competitor in your group and everything that is discussed across the table remains confidential.”
Members naturally forge relationships with others in the group and sometimes benefit from specific connections. Deborah Cogin, Director of Operations and Marketing at Sydney’s BridgeClimb, met someone who was instrumental in helping her company to develop a world-class solution for its camera fleet, which they plan to roll out at the end of the year. “The people in my group are all phenomenal industry leaders and really work with each other to come up with solutions,” Cogin says. “They’re also happy just to listen to your issues, which is sometimes all you need. It’s been extremely beneficial for me to have a space outside of my normal day-to-day working life where I can speak frankly and feel supported.”
The Think Tank groups are currently operating in Sydney and will be available in Melbourne next year. “We’re committed to bringing business leaders together for advice, guidance and support,” says Tunbridge. “When they excel, their companies thrive.”
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