Don’t take time to do the things you love; make time.
That’s the advice of Sara Watts, former CFO of IBM Australia and now Non-Executive Director and McCarthy Mentoring mentor, who describes having a passion outside of work as “so very important”.
Sara shared this and other insights in the recent Women in Banking & Finance (WiBF) Leadership Series, where she talked about her global career with IBM, how she has navigated her career, and the benefits of executive mentoring.
For Sara, the passion is music, and specifically, singing in a choir.
“I’ve realised music is critically important to me. It keeps me sane; it gives me space to contemplate. If I’m learning Tchaikovsky in Russian I can’t be thinking about balance sheets!” she said, noting that it’s important to recognise when you need to have a break and to find those little moments of solitude, or silence or rest.
Sara worked for IBM for 28 years across a number of roles. She explained that she used three criteria to assess whether or not to accept a new role.
“Number one, can I contribute immediately to whatever that role is; number two, am I going to be on a steep learning curve (I know I need that to perform at my best), and: three, am I going to have some fun. With those simple criteria I’ve ended up in some interesting roles in a career that’s been quite broad,” she said.
That said, she acknowledged that she wasn’t always very good at “upselling” her skills, a common trait among women, and spoke about those who, in recent years, questioned whether she would be good on an ASX Board given she didn’t technically have ASX experience.
“For a while that stopped me in my tracks, but I learned to reframe it to respond: ‘That’s true, I don’t have ASX experience, however I did work for a globally listed multinational for 28 years and I understand the cadence of working in a globally listed organisation and therefore I have some skills and experience which I can bring’.”
That sort of courage is something Sara thinks we will need to draw on when COVID-19 and lockdowns are a thing of the past, and the temptation might be to return back to what we knew six months ago, although she suspects we won’t and in some cases can’t.
“One of the really important things – instead of having a closed mindset – is that we try to keep that growth mindset so that we’re actually taking advantage of what this change allows us, and think about what we could do differently, what we had to implement really quickly six months ago, and how we can maintain the best of that,” she said.
“It’s people being brave enough and courageous enough to say, well it worked when we were locked down, so let’s maintain it.”
The WiBF Leadership Series is part of the Executive Mentoring Program for executive-level women which McCarthy Mentoring is offering in partnership with Women in Banking & Finance (WiBF).
The six-month program is aimed at strengthening and increasing the number of women leaders in the sector. Participants will be carefully matched with an experienced mentor or coach from our extensive network, which includes Sara, as well as Bonnie Boezeman AO and Susan Forrester AM. Mentors will draw on their Board and executive management experience to provide practical perspectives, personal stories and strategic advice.
Sara Watts is a Non-Executive Director of Uniting NSW/ACT, LiteracyPlanet, and Vision Australia; a Trustee of the Australian Museum; and Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee of the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission.
Details of the WiBF Executive Mentoring Program or contact us to discuss further.