Fiona Balfour is one of only two women to win the Pearcey Medal for excellence in ITC in its 20 year history. Here, the former Qantas CIO and now prolific Non-Executive Director talks frankly with Emily Wilson about her rapid departure from Telstra after realising there was an irreparable misalignment of values with her new CEO. 

 

Emily Wilson: In 2006 Fiona won the prestigious Pearcey Medal for a lifetime contribution to the ICT industry.  I asked Fiona why she thought she won this amazing honour?

Fiona Balfour: 

Firstly, you do nothing on your own.

The award came after we'd created and implemented a truly incredible, truly revolutionary new booking system at Qantas. It changed everything. One of the things I'm really proud of is that there are about five or six CIOs in Sydney, all of whom were not my first line but my second line, out at the airport. So, all those CIOs, they're all my people, they made this happen. That's one of my legacies to the industry.

Emily Wilson: You'd be proud of that, right?

Fiona Balfour: Yes. Yes I am. I'm very proud of that. I'm really proud of it.  I think it speaks to the strength of the talent. 

Emily Wilson:  Right there, that pride in her team and her legacy is the embodiment of Leadership which I have endeavored to show you throughout this whole series. It's why, if a leader is not aligned to the values of the leadership in an organisation, things go awry... and situations like this arise.

Fiona Balfour: For me, my big reckoning of that was when I was with Telstra. It became clear to me that the expectations of the Chief Executive as to what should be delivered from technology and my expectations, or my judgment, as to what might be delivered were actually quite different.

There was a completely misalignment of values and I made a judgement call. If I can't actually work constructively with my Chief Executive on an issue as fundamental as agreeing what we should be delivering, then actually, this isn't going to work. 

I need to leave, or it'll just destroy me. Which is what I did.

Emily Wilson: I think alignment and expectations management around alignment for you was key... 

Fiona Balfour: Oh, it absolutely is. And trust! There's nothing more important than trust. 

Emily Wilson: Fiona here demonstrates that being brave and standing up for your values and beliefs is the lightning-rod for any organisation. What business wouldn't want a part of that?

Join us on LinkedIn

Watch Part 1: Leadership transition: From the Executive to the Board with Fiona Balfour 

Watch Part 2: 'It just takes a bit of bad feedback!' Fiona Balfour on EQ. 

Watch Part 3: 'The evolution of personal values with Fiona Balfour'

For more executive insights and leadership articles and videos

Alison Harrop, CFO Dexus Group 1: EQ, vulnerability & letting go. 2: Open mindsets

Elyse Henderson, COO AUB Group 1: Diversity & Perfection. 2: What's the point? 3: Resilience.