The Biggest Lessons Tracey Fellows' Has Learned From Her Career So Far

Tracey Fellows

She had to be convinced to take on her first CEO role but Tracey Fellows has proved her leadership skills time and again. Here, she shares her career learnings.

Find the opportunities for impact and prioritise them

President, Global Digital Real Estate, News Corp | 2019–present 

“Being a challenger brand [in the United States with] is tough but there’s a huge opportunity. Okay, we’re not number one but what can we be? What’s our point of difference? People now have a spring in their step at Realtor – they have a sense of pride in what they’re going to do – and David Doctorow, the CEO I hired to run the business, has really driven that home. Because I’m not day-to-day running Realtor, I have to think about the impact and influence I can have and pick the things that are important to engage in. I look at whether it’s something I can bring a perspective to. Is it important strategically or will it have an impact on brand reputation longer term? That’s one assessment. Do I have a conviction that isn’t just a bias from an experience and am I open-minded that my perspective could still be wrong? I think it’s important we at least have the debate and decide. It doesn’t have to be my way all the time and sometimes the value is in having the debate and exchange. If you have conviction and someone says, ‘I don’t see it’, and you’re not willing to fight for it then maybe you shouldn’t have raised it in the first place.”

Culture is everything

CEO, REA Group | 2014-2019

“At REA anything was possible. In my other roles, I had boundaries. But at REA your ambition is only capped by your imagination. Of course you’re answerable to a board so you can’t be ridiculous but we could determine how bold we wanted to be, the areas we thought we could move into as a business, the culture we wanted to have. It was almost like a blank sheet of paper. It was an unbelievable gift to evolve a culture – that’s so important in making a great, successful business. When you have people who are passionate about the purpose, they care so much and they turn up to work every day thinking about what’s possible. It was probably the best role I’ve had in some ways because it really did teach me that it’s all about culture. I didn’t create it – I just helped nurture it along the way. Great culture means people do great things.”

Find a common purpose

Executive general manager, Communication Management Services, Australia Post | 2013-2014

“I’d never walked in the shoes of many of the people who were at Australia Post. I’d never worked in mail processing; I’d never been a postie. When you know nothing about the business or the industry, you learn from the people around you who’ve been in that organisation for a long time. Intellectually it was a super-challenging role because it was a time when the company was going through immense change. It was also quite tough and I had to dig deep. It forced me to test my leadership. How do you embrace people who have very different things matter to them? How do you connect with them in a real way and how do you find a common purpose? I don’t know if I was the best leader I could be but I absolutely was myself, even on the days when I hated it.”

SEE ALSO: NAB CEO Ross McEwan Shares His Top Leadership Advice

Be brave enough to advocate for others

President Asia Pacific, Microsoft | 2011-2013

“When I was running Asia Pacific, I was the only woman in the room in a [global] meeting. We were talking about leaders of the future – it was a talent-mapping thing. It was a deep conversation about opportunities and the next roles for these people. It struck me that for most of the women [being discussed], the consensus was they weren’t ready, they didn’t want it or they weren’t willing to do that next job. It happened three times but I never put my hand up in the room. I should have proudly been the voice, the advocate for women, but I felt super-uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be outnumbered – there were 15 of them and one of me – and I didn’t feel confident I could express it in an unemotional way and not get defensive. I would be much braver now.”

You can learn to be a great leader 

Managing director, Microsoft Australia | 2008-2010 

“I said no to this job initially. I wasn’t a great leader and it terrified me. But I stopped trying to be what I wasn’t and became very clear about what I am. And when you get feedback on how you make people feel, you understand the impact of your actions and you change your actions. How do I want people to feel at the end of this meeting, not just what do I want them to do? At Microsoft it was about the how. How you show up as a leader, the things you accept, the standards you set and the environment you create mattered as much as business results. But showing vulnerability was painful. [During the GFC] I stood in front of 800 people crying and thought, ‘This is taking vulnerability to a stage I never planned.’ But people talked about it. That has stayed with me forever. Vulnerability doesn’t make you weaker.”

It’s okay not to have a plan

Director, Business and Marketing Operations, Microsoft Australia | 2004-2007

“When I went to Microsoft, I was hired to run one of the product groups, the server business. I was six months pregnant at the time. Steve Vamos, who was running Microsoft [Australia & New Zealand] then, is a special kind of mentor and leader for me. When I was on maternity leave, Steve promoted me to my boss’s job. I was hired when I was six months pregnant and promoted on maternity leave, which was good luck, not good management. I didn’t have a career plan... [I think women tend to] look so self-critically at what the things are that we can do and can’t do and then we look at the job and set the bar so high for ourselves. We hold ourselves back not because we don’t have the ambition but because we want to make sure we can do it well.”

Different people need different leadership

General manager, PC division, IBM | 2000-2004

“I was willing to work harder than others and was very driven. In a big company there can be more people saying no than yes. I had the tenacity to keep coming back and to keep pushing. You get very creative when the answer is ‘no, no, no’. This was also the first time I realised being a manager is hard because everyone is different and what drives them isn’t what drives me. How do you get people motivated when they’re not? How do you push them through when they think it’s too hard? Management was harder than I thought and, in those days, I was probably more a cheerleader and a positive energy force – ‘Don’t give up!’ – versus being a particularly good leader who was helping people be better at their job. I don’t think I was a great manager my first time.”

SEE ALSO: Ann Sherry's Career Path Took Her From Radiography to UNICEF and Beyond

Image credit: Kristian Gehradte

You may also like