In 2012 a few significant events were converging for Lyn Harding. She had a milestone birthday to celebrate, her children had finished school, and she was faced with the realization that all good things do indeed come to an end.
The time was right to fulfill a personal dream: Take a 12-month sabbatical, enjoy Italy with her husband, practice conversational Italian, and summon enough courage to ride around on a Vespa.
There was only one catch: In saying “arrivederci” to corporate life, she’d also have to say goodbye to her beloved Vistage group (called The Executive Connection in Australia & New Zealand, or TEC). Her group had become a vital part of her business life since 2007, helping her navigate her role as director of finance and corporate services for Ramsay Health Care, one of the largest global private hospital groups.
In saying goodbye as a member, Harding unknowingly set herself up for a different kind of relationship with Vistage. One year later, fresh from her European adventure, she was offered an opportunity to become a Vistage Chair.
It was easy to say yes. She was establishing a career as an executive consultant and she highly valued her experience as a member. “I have always embraced the power of peer connection and deeply understand the value of long-term mentoring and peer relations,” she says. Plus, her five years as a Vistage member gave her insight into what chairing entailed.
In February 2014, Harding became the first female Chair in Perth, the capital city of Western Australia. Today, she chairs two Vistage groups with a total of 27 members.
“As a Vistage member you are never alone as a decision-maker; you belong to a global network of business leaders,” Harding says, adding that the diversity of perspectives sparks richer discussions, more possibilities for critical thinking and improved — and sometimes unexpectedly — solutions. It’s a dynamic that can only come forth in an atmosphere of deep trust and caring, absolute essentials in her groups.
As a Vistage member Harding personally experienced the value of such a dynamic. For example, she says that when she was faced with a glass ceiling as a woman in a top position of a major organization, she recalls thinking: “If perhaps I behaved more like the men in the organization, I might gain success in breaking through this. But my group, which I trusted implicitly, reminded me of the importance of being an authentic business leader. This was sage advice which made me rethink my situation from the perspective: What’s within my circle of influence, versus what is merely my circle of concern. This helped me make the ‘right’ next move.”
In her groups, Harding aims to attain a healthy level of diversity across many dimensions: gender, age (members range from their 30s to 70s), cultural backgrounds, and organizational roles (there’s a mix of business owners, entrepreneurs and top executives). She also cites a less obvious factor that impacts peer group dynamics: where one is in the business cycle.
“We’re all riding different waves in the business performance cycle,” she explains. “Those riding the crests are quite happily zooming along, while others are in a trough and doing their best to stay upright. Likewise, some members are newly appointed executives who haven’t gained their full confidence yet, while others are mature leaders who want to create a succession plan. She says, “Being at different stages simultaneously is where the magic of the group happens. It’s an opportunity to help each other along while acknowledging that every phase is temporary.”
“Being at different stages simultaneously is where the magic of the group happens. It’s an opportunity to help each other along while acknowledging that every phase is temporary.”
Even as a crusader for diverse perspectives within her groups, the aspect of chairing that Lyn most appreciates is connecting with our common humanity. “As a Chair, I am connected with a global network of people from other countries, cultures and experiences. I am part of a Vistage Worldwide tribe — a powerful group with tremendous reach. That was especially obvious when I attended an international Chair conference in San Diego this year. We are all striving to be the best version of ourselves, to help others succeed, to make a positive difference.”