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Insights from David Thodey, CEO of Telstra at the Crescent Institute

I love the events at the Crescent Institute –  an informal, unpretentious, no-hidden-agendas forum to listen and speak to Australian thought leaders from across the business, social and government arenas.

Last Thursday – 26 September 2013 – the Crescent Institute hosted David Thodey, CEO of Telstra. Between the free-flowing conversations, meeting new people and catching up with friends, I had the pleasure to listen to insights from the leader of Australia’s largest telecommunications provider.

David Thodey at Crescent Institute

Having never actually heard David speak before, it was easy to see why he heads an organisation which last year generated $25.4 billion in revenue and had a reported EBITDA of $10.2 billion. Without pulling punches, skirting around questions or trying to appease political sensitivities, he provided a lucid, honest and light-hearted account of what it means to run a company that is, to a large extent, almost pivotal to the technological success of Australia.

Among the discussion of topical issues, the history and future of Telstra and the context of technology within the Australian economy, I picked up some interesting insights about David’s leadership and management style. Fairly standard textbook stuff around change management, especially during difficult decisions:

  • Be open, honest and transparent
  • Plan well, retrain as many people as you can, and treat everyone with respect
  • Recognise that you have many stakeholders and are responsible for the long term

What struck me was that it didn’t feel like something that he had rehearsed – it was in response to an unmoderated question from the audience and it felt completely sincere. This was also completely congruent with his overall discussion, as well as his demeanour throughout the event – warm, approachable and personal … authentic.

Side note: I’m currently very annoyed by the “authentic” leadership bandwagon … but that’s a post for another day.

His other reminder about dealing with the constant increase in pressure on your time: “Plan to plan”. While “doing” is great, you need to put some time aside to “think” about what and why you’re doing what you’re doing, and whether you’re going in the right direction.

He even chatted with me about my Nokia Lumia 925 Windows Phone. What a guy!  And no … I wasn’t asking about the Amber Update – I already got it earlier this month. Smile

David Thodey and Syed Ahmed

All in all, I was very impressed. I have no doubt that he’s a tough, determined and demanding leader – as one would expect from someone who has reached the position he has – but at the same time I couldn’t help but be drawn in by his humility and infected with his obvious excitement for what lies ahead.

Check out the Crescent Institute’s picture gallery for more pictures of the event.

Snoopy people on the train

I typically spend a couple of hours a day on weekdays on the train, commuting between home and work. In true productivity geek fashion, I try to squeeze as much as I can out of this time, usually doing one of the following:

  • Work (yeah, I know …)
  • Reading (both professional and recreational)
  • Meditating
  • Thinking
  • Sleeping (when the kids / work / something else has kept me up all night)
  • General GTD-type housekeeping, such as emptying my mind into a trusted system (which is currently Asana)
  • Trying to write journal / blog entries

I find a quiet spot, dig in for the next hour and get cracking. Every once in a while, my peaceful <pick activity from list above> is interrupted by:

  • A friend seeing me sitting there and catching up for the rest of the trip
  • An acquaintance seeing me and feeling compelled to sit next to me and making (sometimes awkward) small talk for the rest of the trip

And that’s OK – you do need to be social. Sometimes, though, I’ll get some random stranger sitting next to me who is just … snoopy. No, not in a smart, cute canine way, but in the super-annoying, reading my book / laptop (sometimes out loud) way. Seriously.

And that’s pretty much what happened this morning. I was happily sitting at a window seat, minding my own business, emptying my brain of things I needed to get done today, when this guy came and sat next next to me. He then proceeded to read  – unabashedly – through what I was typing into my loaner Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro (review coming soon). At one point, it became so obvious that I looked at him and said “Hello”, hoping that he would feel bad and stop. But he just smiled, said Hello, shook my hand, and continued his reading pleasure – of my work. Wow.

Much as I tried, I just couldn’t deal with it, so I closed the laptop, packed it away, and spent the rest of the trip thinking about it. While both annoying and somewhat amusing at the same time, I was wondering what is good commuting etiquette relating to reading / viewing other people’s materials on public transport?

I’ve always thought that reading over someone’s shoulder was rude, and feel that it also applies to digital devices. So if you get on public transport and are bored, please refrain from peeking into the reading / viewing material on your neighbour’s lap. You certainly wouldn’t like it if it happened to you … I think.

Connection requests on LinkedIn

Without a doubt, LinkedIn is the platform of choice for professional networking. There are countless articles, guru’s and organisations of all sizes with lots of advice about what should go on your profile, and how important it is to have a strong network. Building that network – at the most mechanical level – requires the following:

  1. Asking others to connect with you
  2. Accepting connection requests from others

I’m constantly surprised (and usually annoyed) when I see the following show up in my inbox:

I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

Really? You’re trying to demonstrate your professionalism by asking someone to connect with you using the canned LinkedIn message? I’m curious to find out how often that works. Personally, unless I know the person who has sent me a canned message quite well, I just ignore the request.

Again, there are thousands of pages online explaining the etiquette of sending a LinkedIn request, but I guess it bears repeating given the number of generic connection messages I keep getting.

When sending a connection request to someone, here are a couple of good rules to follow. 

Explain how you know them (or not)

  • You have worked with them in the past
  • You met them (recently or a while ago) at <some event or place>
  • You saw them present at <some event> but did not get a chance to introduce yourself
  • You know people in common
  • You have worked for the same organisation at some point
  • You have similar interests to them 

Tell them why you’re sending them a connection request

  • You admire their work / career
  • You were impressed with their presentation
  • You want advice
  • You want a job

Also, bear in mind where you’re sending your request from. Last time I checked (about a month ago), the mobile apps didn’t give you an opportunity to personalise your connection message.

Remember, you only get 300 characters (including whitespace such as spaces between words and blank lines) to make an impression, so make them count. Your mileage may vary, but these two things are generally what I want to know when I receive an invite, and what I put in when I send one out.