Steering Leaders Towards a Sustainable Future with Annette Gray


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Introducing Annette Gray

Kath Hume Host 00:58
Annette Gray is an experienced global leadership coach, facilitator and speaker on Solution Focus Coaching and Mentoring. Her vision is to create a more respectful, inclusive and sustainable world by helping leaders grow others, particularly women, so we can all thrive and drive change. Her passion is in developing leaders and mentors to be more coach-like in all their conversations. That will help their teams shine and achieve change fast. This is what she believes leadership for the future is all Annette has a background in teaching, university lecturing, strategic human resources consulting and coaching and mentoring leaders across construction, infrastructure, education and finance sectors, along with her master’s in communication management. She is a professional certified coach with the International Coaching Federation, a senior practitioner coach and a coach supervisor with the European Mentoring and Coaching Council. Annette has trained over 8,000 people in coaching and mentoring and conducted over 2,800 hours of leadership coaching. Outside of work.
Annette is an avid learner, reading and listening daily to many podcasts on leadership, wellbeing and what helps people to fully thrive. She loves to keep fit by ocean swimming and is a mentor to people who are learning to ocean swim through her volunteer work with the Can Too Foundation. She also volunteers as a leadership coach for Homeward Bound, a women in STEMM leadership initiative to help women have a voice around climate change globally. She was lucky enough to go to Antarctica in November 23 with this program. Annette likes to maintain her sanity by being a regular meditator and yoga enthusiast.

Annette Gray Guest 02:46
That was a long intro, wasn’t it?
Kath Hume Host 02:50
We did have a look at it and looked at what we could cut out and it was all relevant. So I think it was some particularly pertinent that we keep it all in there. So welcome, it’s great to have you here. I was wondering could we just start with you giving us a little bit of a background around your career to date and how you’ve arrived at where you are?

How Annette got to where she is today

Annette Gray Guest 03:08
I’ll do the shorter version. I have this habit of going into a bit too much detail. I actually started my career as a high school teacher, and teaching was something that was in my blood from when I was really young. But the first day of teaching I went so this is it? It wasn’t what I was expecting, and it wasn’t until a professional development day, a facilitator came along to train the teachers. I went that’s what I want to be doing, and so I didn’t last too long in teaching. It was only four and a half years and I knew it was something around learning and development.
But I didn’t go down that path straight away. I had about 10 jobs, trying everything, and then I landed a learning and development role with an insurance company, Zurich Financial Service, who they eventually merged with. And once I got teaching adults, I went yeah, this is what I enjoy doing. And then, along the way, I ended up in a more strategic human resources role, which I was working on culture change projects. At that time we had an incredibly progressive managing director and a progressive HR director who gave us the playground to actually help change the culture in a way that we thought fit it. It was an amazing journey, because to have leadership like that at that time it actually showed me what great leadership looked like, and so what I learned from both those two leaders was how to build effective relationships with people, and that’s where my path went after that.
So, after I left that organisation, I then joined a coach training company, and it was really the early days of when coaching came into Australia and I found, oh my gosh, this fits. And so my path over the last 23 years is really around leadership coaching with individual leaders, senior leaders, but also training leaders to be more coach like in their conversation, and that, as I’ve been told from many of those leaders, has been a key skill to help them to be effective leader, because many leaders don’t see growing and developing their people on their radar. That’s one of the key parts of your roles, and so I get joy out of actually providing practical skills to leaders around how can they have better conversations that help make progress but help the responsibility stay with their team?

Kath Hume Host 06:10
Fantastic and I love the story about your leaders, who were really good role models to you. You know, over 20 years ago leading in this space, and I think the world has changed dramatically If I just think about the leaders I had 20 years ago compared to what I’m fortunate to have today. Thank goodness we had those people with the foresight to bring in these leadership programs and support people to be more coach-like in their leadership. So thinking then where we are now and where we want to be in the future what does your reimagined workforce look like?

Annette’s Reimagined Workforce

Annette Gray Guest 06:40
For me, as you said in the opening, what I’m passionate about and it’s really been ignited from going to Antarctica with 88 women from around the globe women in STEMM. It showed me we’ve got to move faster in terms of climate change, environmental change, sustainability, and to do that we need to lead in a different way, and I’ve only stumbled across, hung out with these amazing women from around the world. I’m learning so much, and one is around the sustainability goals that the United Nations put into place that everyone should be taking responsibility for, and you know it’d be good to put in the show notes what they are. But the other thing that underpins that is this inner development goals and basically we can’t change the world in terms of the impact of climate change with the same way that we’ve been going.
We’ve got to really transform, really do things differently, and that takes individual responsibility.
So if we’re thinking of the workforce, every employee taking responsibility, but also leading in a different way, and one of the key skills is about listening and how do we actually help people step up and take responsibility? And that means creating an adult workforce, not a parent child workforce, which is command control style of leadership in the past, but it’s helping people step up and take responsibility. And if I give you an example from last week, a workshop I ran, I noticed they still had plastic bottles of water. Like there were 30 of them sitting at the side there and then all these coffees were delivered in paper cups and I’m thinking how’s that still happening? You know, because it’s just not on their radar. So a reimagined workforce for me is people notice those things and go come on, we can do differently. And I’m noticing a group from who I went with, Antarctica. One of the projects that’s come out of it is actually influencing airlines to use less throwaway weights. So that’s what I see is that everyone’s stepping up to take responsibility.
Kath Hume Host 09:19
And I think I will definitely put that link to the Inner Development Goals video because it’s very beautiful. But it was really demonstrating that if we keep going in the way we are and we’re looking at KPIs that are competitive and we’re very much operating in our silos and against others and we are just going to be continue along the trajectory that we are on and that’s not sustainable. So I love those Inner Development Goals that talk about how do we shift our mindset to working more collaboratively so ensure that we have a planet for us, going forward and for future generations. Yes, that’s right.
Annette Gray Guest 09:55
It takes senior leadership in organisations to go hang on a sec. We need to do this differently. We need to interact differently, but many don’t know how.
Kath Hume Host 10:07
So I love that you’ve alerted me to those Inner Development Goals. I think it’s a really good call out for the fact that there’s all these different capabilities that we need to develop to operate more collaboratively, rather than the competitive world that many of us have been working in up until now.

Kath Hume Host

Can you tell us a little bit about how your work contributes to achievement of those In a Development Goals?

How Annette is supporting Leaders to develop the Inner Development goals in their people

Annette Gray Guest 10:30
I think the big thing is. The critical skill they’re saying is crucial for all of us is how to listen, and so when I’m training leaders and mentors, I train as well, and I’ll get on to mentoring a bit later Is how do you have respectful conversations that actually help make progress? And the way I do that and I’m connected around the world with solution focus practitioners all around the world, and again we might be able to put something in the show notes about solution focus in organisation, because it’s a simple way of having conversations that focus on what’s working and what’s wanted rather than what’s not wanted. I think so much time in conversations at work happen trying to solve problems. Understanding the problem to the end, to the end degree, isn’t going to find the solution. So I help leaders be able to shift the conversation from away from what they don’t want to what is it they do want and what would that look like in concrete detail? And have you been in this situation before that you’ve been able to make progress already. So the leaders way of having conversations is more about asking than telling.
Yeah and often what I find leaders are saying. I don’t have time to coach, but the thing is they will have people being dependent on them for the answers if they don’t change the way they have conversations. So if we want everyone to step up and take responsibility, it takes the leader or manager having different conversations and in essence it’s about ask, don’t tell.

Kath Hume Host 12:33
And do you have some tips around suggested questions or how to prompt those conversations and even where those conversations happen, how you set them up? Are there some practical tips that you can give to teach us.

Tips for better coaching conversations

Annette Gray Guest 12:44
Yeah, sure, so you know. Firstly, don’t think about coaching like I do it. I’m a professional coach and I sit down and talk to people around their professional goals for an hour now and a half. That’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is for leaders, it can be in a two minute conversation. So if you’re thinking on one end of the scale, you’re high performer. They still need you to check in on them Probably not as much as your person that’s not performing at their best, but they still need you as a sounding board. So for them it’d look like you know. So tell me what you’re focused on, what are your best hopes from our conversation, and you know. What might that look like? What might be your next step going forward? So it can go bang, bang, bang, but it’s knowing what question to ask. And I often say to leaders you don’t know the question you’re going to ask until you’ve heard what the team members said.
Kath Hume Host 13:48
Yeah, and I think that’s where that listening skill that you mentioned before becomes really important too, because I know and I’m guilty of it myself that when you’re in a hurry and having a conversation, sometimes you’re formulating your response before you’re actually the other person finishes speaking. So it’s a really important skill. So tell me, I’m really intrigued about the linkage between your work and what you did in Antarctica and then how that’s going to progress.

Linking Annette’s work, Women in STEMM, Antarctica and environmental sustainability

Annette Gray Guest 14:14
The movement on so, if I give you a context, homeward Bound has set up this Women in STEMM leadership program and this is the eighth year it’s been going. And it all came from Fabian Datner, who is the founder. She had a dream about taking women to Antarctica to help with climate change, and this dream has come to fruition and the goal is to have 10,000 women through this program. And what I’ve found and I’ve been a leadership coach on this program for seven years now and I’ve always had to live through the participants when they’ve gone off to Antarctica Because the whole year it’s a year leadership initiative and it’s helping women in STEMM around their own leadership, their wellbeing, visibility and climate change, and the goal is for these women to have more of a voice in their home countries around climate change. But often these women don’t get access to leadership development. So this is the big focus, but the lens is how do we impact climate change?
And that’s where I was lucky enough to go, because there were some places available that they couldn’t fill, so I got to go, which was my dream. To go to Antarctica and then do it in this way was even better, and so we were together for 20 days on a ship. That wasn’t a cruise ship, it was a science, research, very basic. I had to share rooms with two people. We swapped halfway through, but I got to hang out with these incredible women who are the top of their fields but lack the confidence because no one was actually helping them grow and develop and weren’t being heard. So this initiative was really about helping them have a voice, and one exciting thing that happened last week was one of them got asked to speak to the president of France and the Prime Minister of India, who were visiting where. She was in France and she was from Assam and she was having a conversation with the two of them and we’re going go, girl, like this is amazing.

Priyanka meeting French President Emmanuel Macron
The ongoing benefit from Annette’s journey to Antartica

And what else has come out of it that I hadn’t anticipated? I have 88 women I can call on. We’re all in a WhatsApp group together and I didn’t realise how powerful that is to have that ongoing support that are your cheerleader, are your. I need information on this. Have you anyone done this? And I just thought, wow, that network is in a really important piece. If we want to progress, women, people of diverse backgrounds we actually have to help create that network so that they’ve got on tap, advice, cheerleading support, whatever is needed, but we’re all then. You know Priyanka. Her name is. She’s an aerospace scientist and an artist. She combines both, and we would go. Woohoo, Priyanka, that is amazing that you got asked to do that, and there was a lovely video footage so I could actually put that in the show notes of her speaking to the president and the Prime Minister from India.
Kath Hume Host 17:52
It’s really interesting that you mentioned that these women are in the top of their game and I think you said to me once before, of the 88 women, 50% of them had PhD, so they’re exceptional in their own right. And it’s still amazing to me to think that there’s still some of those, like a significant amount of those women, who like the confidence. Yet they’re experts in their field and I love the example you’ve given us because it demonstrates that if one person can do it, then that’s going to breed confidence in the rest of you, because you’ll think well, I’m similar to her, I’m similar expertise, maybe not in the same field, but I’m at the top of my game. Maybe I could be like her. You mentioned around that network that you’ve got, and I also think you’ve got that 88. But imagine all the connections that those 88 have If we think about that. Six degrees of separation it’s an enormous opportunity you’ve got there.

What happens next?

I think you mentioned too that you’re now breaking up into working groups. So it’s continuing on and you’re doing some work. So can you tell us a little bit about what?
Annette Gray Guest 18:52
Yes, so on the ship. The last few days of the ship, it was like what are you warmed up to, what collaborations are you warmed up to? And so I put out I’m really keen on supporting more women instead moving into leadership. I don’t know what that looks like, but who wants to collaborate with me? And we can work it out after the ship. So what’s emerged is, you know, there’s 10 of us at the moment, from all around the world people, and we’re working out well. Maybe we can showcase each of these 88 women Like this in a podcast. So they’re getting visibility because you know, you don’t know what you don’t see, and so our project is very much around how do we elevate women in leadership? So, particularly in those STEMM fields, and part of that is maybe there’s some mentoring that can happen within all the alumni from previous cohorts that can go through. So we’re looking at how to set up a mentoring database of you know, if you need support in this, this is the person to go to, but you have ongoing conversations with that person as well, Because that’s.

New and different approaches to mentoring


The other area of my work is around mentoring, and I’ve been involved in different mentoring programs for associations like the National Association for Women in Construction and what continually comes out in that area is that having a mentor gives you confidence and that’s the number one thing out of the 10 years I’ve run that program that participants are saying that’s what I got From having someone who is my cheerleader, who is on my side, I could use as a sounding board, who is external to the organizations, and I see that is key for this reimagined workforce that we have all sorts of mentoring. It’s just not one mentor, but it’s for different reasons. So each team member could be a mentor for another person, Because I love the concept of complementary leadership and that is, you know, the whole focus and I’ve been in HR and I know we had competencies that were required for each level of leadership. But not one human being is going to be able to have all those competencies. Some people are going to shine in some and others in other areas. So how can you pair up to complement each other so that you can, a whole team can capture all the competencies.
So I digressed a bit of mentoring there, but I think that’s what the reimagined workforce looks like is. Mentoring happens in a whole range of ways and I’ve got a great example I can’t put my hat on. I call I cause that, but they’re already down this path of they have graduate mentoring, they have reverse mentoring, so they have someone more junior mentoring, someone with senior Wow yeah, they have well-being mentoring. Like they’ve just got all these different aspects and I went that’s the model. That’s the model of what this reimagined workforce could look like. There’s a whole range and layers of ways you can grow and develop people and help people to shine. It does not always have to come back to the leader, but they do play a vital role in that.
Kath Hume Host 22:44
It’s really interesting. I often say that one of the best decisions I ever made in my career was to go out and seek a mentor, and that was Michelle Lockers, and that was single-handedly the best thing I’ve ever done. She was exceptional at listening to what I had to say, what my problems were or what the challenges were or what I wanted to achieve, and just giving me tools and resources that then I could go and engage with. What I loved about that whole experience other than the fact that we became really good friends is that then I felt that was my turn to pay that forward, and so I was a mentor to someone else from the AITD. That was awesome too, because that forced me to go and find things for this person and think through what that problem is like from their perspective and what I might do in that situation, and that was a really rewarding and enriching experience too. I love the different facets of mentoring that you’re approaching this from.
Annette Gray Guest 23:47
I suppose, building on that, often people are thrown into being a mentor and given no skill development, and so that’s where I’ve seen a real gap and I help mentors learn how to mentor in a coaching way, because often people think, right, I’ve assigned you being your mentor and so I need to download all my wisdom to you, and actually that’s not might be what they need at that point. Knowing how to decide when do I put my coaching hat on, when to put my mentoring hat on, is what I help mentors do.
Kath Hume Host 24:28
So what I’m really interested in is how do you?
Annette Gray Guest 24:31
So if I could give you an example from the mentoring side, when I’ve developed mentors usually part of that program and help launch it, help train the mentors, but then check in halfway through the program and then we have a final session to review where mentees got to and what they were pleased about and how they mentored. When I hear that I got a promotion or I have more confidence, I go yeah, I’m having an impact. So it’s the result of what the mentors do with their mentee and the impact they’re having. I go okay, I’ve had an impact because they’ve grown and developed this person.
Kath Hume Host 25:22
Yeah, and are you going to be measuring the outcomes of the working groups from the mentor?
Annette Gray Guest 25:27
We’re very at the very beginning stages so we haven’t quite defined what we’re aiming for yet. So definitely one thing about elevating women in STEMM, in leadership, is what we noticed is the homeward bound program. It was people who could afford it, so it was very on the privileged end, although there were some sponsored spots and people could do fundraising. But we’ve noticed that’s a real gap for more disadvantaged countries, that we want to actually find a way to resource more spread of women across the world.
Kath Hume Host 26:07
Excellent. I’ll be very interested to keep watching this space and I will include a lot of those links in the show notes to things that you’ve mentioned, because I think it’s really interesting, and I believe we’re going to throw in some pictures and photos that you took from the journey to which I’m quite fascinated about. It’s a whole other world and I personally don’t like the cold. I’m not sure that I could ever do it. So I have a lot of admiration for people who are brave enough to go and do it because there’s no turning back.
Annette Gray Guest 26:38
I suspect once you’re on that boat, you’re on that boat, I think when you see that pristine setting. And the other aspect is no one owns Antarctica. So it’s actually an example of what a reimagined workforce could look like, because people have to collaborate from different countries to protect Antarctica and the charter is for science and peace, so that’s a really good model that we could do on a whole range of things.
Kath Hume Host 27:13
And so that’s the reason Antarctica is selected.
Annette Gray Guest 27:16
And plus, if Antarctica melts, it means our sea levels rise by 60 metres, and so everything stems from protecting Antarctica, because our weather patterns start from there as well. So if we don’t protect that, the whole weather systems will go out of whack. And we’re already seeing I mean, that’s what we saw as well the issue of less sea ice than impacts penguins and impacts the animal life down there. So seeing that firsthand it puts a fire in your belly to do your bit for climate change.
Kath Hume Host 27:58
Yeah, you don’t get that, removed from it, you actually see it in real life. Yeah, I can imagine that would be pretty confronting. Excellent, All right, so if people did want to get in contact with you, well, my website is, or reach out on LinkedIn.
Annette Gray Guest 28:14
I’m under Annette Gray Consulting on LinkedIn, so either of those places.
Kath Hume
Excellent, and I’ll put all those links in the show notes as well so they’re easy for people to find, and I also put them on our website. So and I’ll put the transcript in all of the other materials. So thank you very much. Thanks for listening to the Reimagined Workforce Podcast.
Speaker 2
We hope you found some valuable ideas that you can apply to transform your own work today and tomorrow. A lovely conversation Additional information and links can be found in the show notes for episode at Please share this podcast with your community and leave us a rating to let us know what we can do better for you.

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