Holly Ransom: Born Leader
Holly Ransom has many titles – high performer, millennial, entrepreneur, leadership spokesperson, global keynote speaker, mediator and social commentator, Port Adelaide FC Board Director, G20 Youth Summit Chair (2014), innovator and problem solver. And she lives up to every one of them, to the fullest. We sat down with Holly while she was in the north for James Cook University’s BEST (Business Excellence Series in the Tropics) breakfast event to find out how she became a leader and how we can raise the next generation of leaders.
Holly, as a high performer how do you consider your upbringing to have helped you develop your skills as a high performer and a thought leader?
I think I latched on to the concept of mentorship quite young, not that I knew it by that term then. I was just so curious, I wanted to find people who could help me make sense of the world.
My grandmother has been my biggest encourager; my Grade 5 teacher was pivotal in unleashing me in many ways by encouraging me to believe in what I could do; but then through high school it was more formal mentors.
It disappoints me when you go into a room and ask how many people have a mentor, and only about 20% do. People might say, ‘well, how do you go get a mentor?’ I don’t think you hunt a mentor, I think you chase learning, you ask to meet for a coffee, you talk, and if you find yourself thinking you’d love to learn from this person more regularly, you ask them.
You need different people at different times of your life too, and that’s ok.
Did you always set out to be ‘the boss’?
No, actually! Although, apparently I naturally found myself in leadership positions since about Grade 1, go figure! It wasn’t an active intention at all.
You get one shot at life, and you want to make the best of your contribution you can. That tends to find you involved in things and full of ideas and wanting to pursue it.
I don’t think I sought to be the boss; I sought to learn under really good bosses. That’s definitely been intentional.
Many of our readers are working parents. From your perspective, what are the key actions they need to take to develop leaders for the future? Or at least raise adults who are able to thrive?
Good question! Two big things. First, your children have to be learning as much outside of the classroom as they are in it. I think if your definition of ‘learning’ is confined to the four walls of the classroom, we are doing children a disservice. They need to be out getting experience, doing internships, building relationships with people and getting an appreciation for how the real world works.
The second biggest thing – and it’s something I don’t think we’ve done well enough for millennials, and I hope we can correct it for the next generation – is we need to incrementally build resilience into children. We need to encourage them to fail safe in the schooling environment, perhaps by having 15-year-olds start a little micro business and see if they can make a go of it. Because if we don’t allow them to incrementally build the skills they need to pick themselves back up when things don’t work, we’re not setting them up for success. As a parent you naturally want stability, safety and security for your child and so you resist that.
In general, do today’s employers still have obstacles in embracing, or understanding, millennials as employees?
It’s dependent on the organisation, but on the whole, yes – and largely that’s just lack of exposure. You notice the difference in business leaders who have millennial children and those who don’t. They haven’t been in an environment to learn about them, and your company hasn’t actively hired graduates or created internships to give you exposure to them and learn about them – who they are and what they are about.
It’s a pretty big business risk if you don’t have an awareness of this growing consumer base – which this year will become the largest consumer base by dollar spend, and by 2020 will occupy two-thirds to 75% of the workforce.
The biggest thing to be thinking about right now is ‘how do I break down the walls that might exist between my organisation and this demographic’.
“I don’t think I sought to be the boss; I sought to learn under really good bosses.”
– Holly Randsom
What are we lacking in our approach to youth unemployment? Is there a simple solution to this complex problem?
That’s an essay; it’s a war and peace novel! At the simple level though, there are two things. First, we fundamentally need to transform the education system. We know we are not skilling our young people. Not just with the content but with the pedagogy of creating a learning environment and teaching them the tools they need for the future. That’s a really big challenge, and one we need to correct or we’re just setting people up for failure.
The second thing is around that relationship to industry and that opportunity to build those resiliency skills. I’m on the board of RMIT’s business school. We’ve made it compulsory that every young person who goes through the business school learns how to pitch an idea, and pitch a business proposal. Irrespective of whether you’re studying an entrepreneurship degree or wanting to start your own business, this is a critical skill we are going to need moving forward. Young people are going to have more fluid, non-linear, multi-path careers than we’ve ever seen before, so that’s the new reality we have to gear them for. They need the skills to be their own economic agent and be able to navigate whatever pops up.
You have, in your 27 years, achieved quite a lot. For you, how do you get the most out of each day?
The game changer for me was understanding this idea of energy management instead of time management. We can get caught up in the ‘busy cycle’ and judge the success of a day by how many meetings we’ve crammed into it.
I’ve worked out that understanding the energy cycles of myself and my body over a 24 hour period – which is working out what is it that energises me, what it is that drains me – and how I can strategically structure my day to prioritise those things that energise me, allows me to optimise my day. Exercise is something that energises me, so I make it a priority every day of the week without question.
The book that got me onto it was The Power of Full Engagement, written by psychologists who looked at top performers in the industry and the difference between number 1 and number 20 or number 100. What they found out was it was the way they conserved energy in non-demand moments to allow them to deliver at key moments.