Heidi Hauf: The most achievable and strong visions are driven by purpose and a connection to values

Having worked in leading organisations worldwide, across public, private and not-for-profit sectors, Heidi Hauf knows first-hand that achieving her vision of sustainable development requires compassion, transparency and collaboration.  

Heidi is a strategist and facilitator who uses design thinking and taps into diverse networks to tackle ‘wicked’ challenges. She’s passionate about creating a fair and prosperous future for everyone, thinking big and driving positive social change. 

Heidi’s purpose and values have fuelled every step in her career, from being an Intelligence Officer in the Australian Army, who graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon to working in think tanks, community and environmental organisations in the United Kingdom, Australia and emerging economies. 

In this interview, Heidi shared with me her passion for working with others to achieve her vision…

What is the main motivation for your leadership?

Heidi: Sustainability is what has driven me into leadership roles and thought leadership. It’s reflected in my choices about work: where I work, what I work on,  and what challenges I choose to tackle. That comes from a sense of obligation to leave the world a better place. I want my life to contribute to making things better for other people in some way. It’s been a driver my whole life, and I think it drives me to make decisions about how I can contribute to the greater good, which naturally leads to leadership opportunities. It also naturally drives you to balance what you are good at and will enjoy doing, with what positively impacts people around you.

Who inspires or mentors you?

Heidi: Starting early in life, the people that deeply inspired me were people who promoted social justice like Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. I remember being inspired by people who I saw sacrifice personally for wider social justice. Then as I got older, I realised that those who inspire me are much closer. My parents, my mother, in particular, are inspirational because of how they choose to live and how they treat people. 

The difference between looking further afield to someone like Nelson Mandela and being inspired by massive acts of personal sacrifice to looking home to mum and dad, is recognising that everyday acts by everyday people can make a positive difference in the world. You don’t have to have a grand, publicly recognised achievement to inspire others.

My parents have this way of making you feel like they’re proud of you but that it’s not a big deal, which is great. They always made me think that if I did my best and treated people kindly, they’d be proud of me, whatever I did with my life.

What are the important characteristics that we need leaders to have today?

Heidi: That feels like such an important question given the world today. I see people in Australia thinking about the world they live in and the country they want to be part of and therefore looking for leaders that might embody that.  And that’s important because I don’t think that’s been as important to decision-making in elections for a while.  I think that what we’re looking for, what I think we need in leaders, is compassion. And I think we are starting to recognise in Australia that compassion in leaders is not a weakness. Having compassion is beginning to be seen as a strength of leadership. We’ve had this fairly old-fashioned, you know, alpha type, archetype to be a dominant, unforgiving, tough leader. I want to see more compassion in our leaders. 

I also want more transparency and a willingness to be open and collaborative in leadership. The challenges we face around building a sustainable future are tricky and complex, and there are lots of compromises required. No single country, company or leader can make the changes we need to make to our systems, to influence the way we live, in order to make the world more equitable, and tackle climate change.  We have to be honest about what we don’t know, about what we need to do and work with and learn from others. 

How do you cultivate these characteristics in yourself?

Heidi: Compassion makes us better humans. I find if we have a bit of empathy and patience around how we interact with others and how we address the challenges  in our lives, compassion makes those interactions better, kinder, and more meaningful. 

I try to foster it; I’m not saying I’m the pillar of compassion, particularly when I’m stressed and tired. But I try to put myself in other people’s shoes. The sense of empathy also helps you to be curious about where other people are coming from and why we might have different perspectives.  I think the tenet of assuming positive intent is also part of compassion. Remember that it might not always seem like it, but most people’s actions come from a good place. It’s just that we sometimes do not understand where their intentions are coming from, or vice versa. 

Openness and transparency are linked to a willingness to collaborate, which is why I think they are crucial leadership characteristics. If you think about how this applies at an international level in global institutions, if we don’t bring everyone to the table, we are unable to have the conversation we need to have to get the results we need. We share this globe, and understanding that is a fundamental principle in how we should think about leadership, whether at a national level, in corporations or at home. I try to foster it every day knowing that I’ve got something to learn from others; I seek collaboration because I feel I can do better by learning and working with others because they’ve got different perspectives to bring to the table. It also just feels better when you achieve stuff by working with others. It’s a joint achievement instead of something you’ve driven solely yourself.

How important is having a leadership vision for your career?

Heidi: I think it’s essential and remember having a vision very early. I remember feeling like I had a big dream of how I’d like to contribute to the world, and it firmed up as I became a professional and got some tools to help me make that vision clearer. 

I was driven by – and I feel the most achievable and strong visions that bring people to them are driven by – purpose and connection to values. This connection means that you always have this very clear North Star, whether it’s making decisions about what job you take or what kind of decisions you make as a leader. When values and purpose drive you, you have the North Star, a bigger, long-term goal guiding you in making tactical or strategic decisions. It allows you to make decisions aligned with your purpose and vision that you’re able to adapt and consider what is appropriate to the situation you’re in at a point in time. The other thing about having values and purpose behind your vision is it inspires people. It draws people to it. I don’t know anyone who has told me about something they’re passionate about, their big dream that doesn’t get me excited about it too.

*Heidi’s views and opinions are solely hers and are not purported to represent the views and opinions of her employer.

Partner with Dr. Kim Vella

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