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Gail Kelly: Breaking the glass ceiling- Seven life lessons of a highly respected business woman

What makes a successful and highly respected business woman? Recently the headlines have covered the story of Gail Kelly. As the preceding Chief Executive Officer of Australia’s oldest and second largest bank, Gail Kelly was the most powerful woman in finance in Australia and shattered the glass ceiling of corporate Australia. Kelly had been Chief Executive Officer at St George for more than five years before she was headhunted by Westpac and took over as Chief Executive in February 2008. During Kelly’s tenure, Westpac outperformed its rivals; the returns were almost double that of the other major banks and almost three times the stock market average. As of 2014, she is ranked as the 56th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. Kelly has been described as an innate optimist and inside the bank she has an almost legendary appetite for work.

Twenty-four years ago Kelly wrote in her 230-page tome, “Learning to lead is itself a process. It involves victories and defeats, it involves intuition and insight; it involves constant self-evaluation.” So what are the top habits, mantra and lessons learnt of this highly respected business woman today?

At the St George Bank Foundation launch in August, Kelly outlined seven key points leading to her success:

1. Choose to be positive
You can choose how you respond to situations. Actively choose to be positive. Kelly noted that you should always choose, even in difficult times, to see the glass as half full, look for the opportunity to learn, for insights and next steps.

2. Do what you love, love what you do
If you’re doing what you love, you’ll end up doing more of it and gain more confidence and grow your capability and skills.

3. Be bold, dig deep
Be bold and courageous. Put your hand up and back yourself and be prepared to take the opportunities that come your way.

4. Right people on the bus, wrong people off
Good to Great, by Jim Collins researched over 1500 well reputed organisations and studied what differentiates the good from the great. In agreement with Kelly’s view, Jim found the single most important factor was having the right people in the right role; have the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus

5. Vision
Being able to communicate the vision and purpose of the organisation is vital. It’s fantastic for alignment and for productivity and allows people to understand how the work they do supports the vision of the company

6. Generosity of Spirit
Kelly described this is an essential ingredient for being successful in your life and your business; practising generosity of spirit in the way you go about your life and in leadership roles at work. Displaying generosity of spirit means treating individuals with deep respect and having the desire to see others flourish. People who do not do this tend to be quick to judge, intolerant, and take credit for other peoples work.

7. Live a whole life
Be clear on the priorities in your life and invest in them all the way. It is vital to never lose sight of who you are and your inner person. Kelly has made it clear that her number one priority is her family

For Gail Kelly’s full speech at the St George Bank Foundation launch, please see

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