"I used my gut - when leaders look for the textbook answer, there usually isn’t one."

Getting promoted to a senior leadership position sends many things through your mind. Including excitement and anticipation much of what you are thinking is scary and challenging.

  • Will I be good at this job?
  • What will I focus on first?
  • Will my people respect me?

Although the transition to senior leadership is a challenge in itself, you don’t generally have to wonder…

  • Will I get death threats?
  • How can I prove I’m as good as the men that came before me when they expect me to fail?
  • When will I tell my team of 200 that my first job is to re-engineer everything about their whole world?

Delfina Lanzilli had the full senior leadership experience, death threats and all. As the first woman to be appointed to the position of Valuer-General for the South Australian Government, her challenges were many including having to prove that a woman could do the job as well as a man.

She told us about the challenge that she faced in creating an efficient, contemporary, and constructive culture in a workplace that was steeped in so many years of ‘doing it the way we’ve always done it’. She knew they had to stay relevant and therefore had to change. She was faced with ensuring the culture, budget, productivity, and value was at the same standard as their private competitors. This she discovered was a huge hill to climb, because after years of neglect the staff were disengaged and hurting. 

Staff were disengaged and hurting.

We were thrilled to have Delfina share her fierce and daring transformation journey at our July Transformation Network event. Our network were provided with a candid and behind the scenes look at what it means to be ‘a first woman’ in a highly volatile and political environment. 

Her first challenge and ultimate win, was introducing flexible working conditions into the department. After five years of rolling up her sleeves and doing the work required, almost all of the 200 staff have flexible work plans and the workforce engagement and productivity has increased.

I won’t share all of Delfina’s secrets here, they were given with a generous spirit to the people who joined us, however, let me share a few of my reflections and key takeaways from her inspiring journey.

  • Stay focused on vision – Delfina was faced with a big challenge and had to maintain her resilience in the face of things that would make the strongest of us crumble. Her vision was strong and when she met a challenge she went back to why she was undertaking the journey. Her passionate about the department and dedication to the South Australian people was a key driver to create an effective, efficient and purposeful Valuer-General’s office and service.
  • Keep perspective – Delfina is also a volunteer at a local hospice which helped her keep in perspective when things got tough and the push back was almost debilitating. Her ability stand on the balcony (to coin an adaptive leadership term) and view the situation with perspective was essential to maintaining resilience and passion.
  • Get help to MANAGE and use your gut to LEAD – Although she engaged a skilled project manager to assist her with managing the transformation, she had to step up and LEAD it. One of the most powerful things she shared with us was that she went into this significant transformation process without years of experience and expertise managing this size of change. She used her gut and her heart to guide her when the rule book couldn’t give her an answer.

“When leaders look for the answer in the textbook, there usually isn’t one”.

  • Be visual – She knew that the only way to get people on board with the change was to stand tall, walk the floor, be vulnerable, visit the various sites, be available when she was needed, answer the hard questions and manage the tough stuff. Her focus as the program sponsor was to ensure that the people managing the tactical changes could do their jobs, and she stayed focused on supporting her people the way they needed to be supported. 

If you’ve read any of my other blogs you’ll know that I firmly believe that leadership starts when the rule book ends. To be a transformational leader, you don’t need to know the tactics of project and change management (that’s why you engage a project manager and a change partner). As a transformational leader you need to understand what it takes to lead people through change. 

Delfina’s journey is an inspiring and daring tale of a person who took on a huge challenge at personal cost, and she felt the fear and did it anyway. She lead with heart and gut and did what was right for the people she was leading and the community she was serving. 

We are very grateful for her candor and generous spirit in coming and sharing her journey with our Transformation Network

If you are curious and/or passionate about Transformation and want to join our next Transformation Network event, please head to Eventbrite to join us in August. https://synergyiq.com.au/adelaide-transformation-network/

About the Author:

Michelle’s dream is to create workplaces where people are valued and feel safe, and organisations that are great places to work and do business.
Leveraging her interest in people and organisational development, she traded in her accounting career to pursue her undergraduate and graduate degrees in human behaviour, organisational development and ethics.
In 2013, after holding a range of positions in human resources and senior management, Michelle founded SynergyIQ a management consultancy. Michelle now runs SynergyIQ with her two business partners, and a team of amazing consulting and change professionals specialising in leadership, culture, and change.
Michelle’s professional associations and accreditations include the Australian Human Resource Institute (CAHRI), Human Synergystics (OCI/OEI/LSI), the Leaders Institute of South Australia (GLF2013) and is a Certified DARE TO LEAD™ Facilitator.
Michelle is the author of “Energy Vampires Suck” – vol1&2, and the international bestseller “Culture Inc: create a business that delivers results and people love”.

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