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Michelle Blicavs

Australian CEO on imposter syndrome {Interview}

Michelle Blicavs, CEO of Consulting Surveyors (NSW and National)

"So many leaders I see suffer from impostor syndrome.”  Michelle Blivacs, CEO, ACS NSW

How do you become a better leader? And, can you ever be good enough? 

Michelle Blivacs, CEO since 2017 of the Association of Consulting Surveyors (NSW and National) has grappled with this issue, and says a commitment to professional development, and her faith, give her the confidence to be authentically herself.  

What makes you a Unique Leader (as you proudly write on your Linked In profile)?

I think I’ve learned through my career to just be me. I’m told I have high energy which means I move quite quickly when it comes to getting things done.  This can be an advantage and sometimes, for those around me, a challenge!  I’m not your usual suited up executive. I’m comfortable in my own skin and I have no problem admitting I don’t understand something. Similarly, I have no problem shouting out an answer to a problem that needs to be solved! I think I have a confidence that is often missing in women in senior positions; not an arrogance I hope, but bold enough to ask for what I think I am worth.  Also, I am a woman of faith and I’m not ashamed to admit I love Jesus. I believe He gives me strength and wisdom each day – and stating so in an interview like this is often unique!

This is your second CEO position, can you talk about the learning curve when you first became a CEO?

I had been a General Manager in the bus industry for a few years, but that was a family business. My two CEO roles have been in the Association sector which is quite different to most commercial spaces. Associations are about serving the interests of members, advocating on their behalf and promoting their profession.

The transition to CEO, reporting to a Board proved to be quite different from the family business. I see my role as a CEO as a servant of the Board.  They set the strategy and I deliver it. It’s really a two-way relationship and I’ve been fortunate to work under exceptionally talented Boards who understand how an Association works.

What are the most important behaviours in a successful leader?
  • Honesty and Transparency. With those who work for you and those you represent.
  • Engagement and Communication are keys in the Association sector – with staff, with the board, with members and with stakeholders.
  • Confidence that is natural – trust in your ability and journey; in your experience.  So many leaders I see suffer from “impostor syndrome” and struggle to recognise that they are where they are because of who they are and what they deliver.

Your team has been to a Four Disciplines of Execution workshop with Chris McChesney. Why did you feel it was an important workshop for your team?

In business it can be easy to get stuck in the day to day.  Every now and then you need to take some time and look up. Discover what new principles and thought leadership is being discussed that can help move the needle for your business.  This workshop was one of those for us.

Can you share any specific initiatives that have helped with execution?

We loved it! I totally agreed with Chris that when it comes to strategy we put so much energy into the planning part that we forget about the implementation.  My team are still actively spending time each week listing our key objectives for the week that will move us closer to delivering on the strategy. We check in at the end of the week to see how we did.  This “execution” has helped us see some real wins for the Association.
What drives you to emphasise personal development and ongoing learning within your team? 

I remember when I finished my Masters Degree thinking, “Phew, that’s it!  I’ll never have to study again!” But, of course, to excel in any workplace, and in life, you must keep learning. I am an avid reader and I enjoy listening to podcasts on leadership and business.  I pick up key tips and tricks that help me in my day to day business and in my personal life.
I’m not a believer in Work/Life Balance.  I believe in an integrated life and by continually seeking to improve myself and my leadership I believe I’m a better boss, a better mum, a better friend, a better mentor and a better wife.

What is great teamwork to you?

Whether you have a team of three, or a team of 300, we all work with people. Divided workplaces don’t achieve the purpose.  I welcome diversity and unique thought in my team, and I often ask for their input on my own crazy ideas.  A great team works together for the common goal of the organisation. They give their all (during work hours only!) and everyone pitches in to help others when needed – no silos!

What else do you do to learn how to be a better CEO?

I have a book list of recommended reading that is always longer than the time I have to read them. But I try to read one book on leadership every month. I listen to podcasts on the bus to and from work on different approaches to work and life. I connect with peers at my own Association gatherings and I attend at least one conference each year dedicated to my own development.

What’s a myth about being a CEO that you’d love to bunk?

That we have all the answers! Personally, I love it when one of my team, or someone from my Board, or my membership come up with a new idea or a way to solve a problem.  I don’t have all the answers and I’m happy to share the glory when my team or one of my members finds the solution that eluded me!

Michelle's GREAT EIGHT, eight quick getting-to-know you questions we ask all our interviewees
  1. What's a book you'd recommend?   The Game of Inches by Nigel Collin – the story of Australian business people most of us have never heard of! Love the uniqueness of it.
  2. If you could co-author a book with anyone, who would it be, and what is the book title? Annabel Crabb – The Rollercoaster of Political Life for Candidates
  3. What's a great bit of advice you could share?   It’s okay to be you! Don’t try to be someone you think they want you to be!
  4. What's been your lowest moment, and how did you recover?  I don’t dwell on those. I take the knocks in life as a closed door and look for the open one. I’m terribly optimistic that way!
  5. How do you relax? Netflix Binging
  6. What’s a fun fact that’s not widely known about you?  I have a Diploma of Theology
  7. What's the secret of success?For me it’s faith and family. Work isn’t everything, but my faith and my family always come first and at different stages in my life I have sacrificed my career for both.
  8. What's a prediction for 2025?I hope we have transporters by then!‘Cause I hate to think I’ll still be stuck in Sydney traffic…

Interested in learning from one of the world's most celebrated CEOs? The Growth Faculty is hosting the highly-regarded and transformational former CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi in June 2019.

Responsible for growing revenues by almost double from 2006-2018, Nooyi is an award-winning leader's leader, and will speak at a first class dinner An Evening with Indra Nooyi for corporate executives. More information, click here.