Queen of modern leadership, Avril Henry shares practical tips for life and business
She is confident and highly intelligent, dynamic and humorous.
A provocateur passionate about transforming leadership models, building diversity capabilities and reforming outdated workplace practices, she is considered one of Australia’s premier and most engaging, entertaining, and practical keynote speakers.
This week on Quirkee Birds Stories we are speaking with our endlessly inspiring customer; Avril Henry - serial author, internationally-acclaimed and highly sought-after speaker and the founder and owner of ahaa! business advisory. We know this is a long article, but being full of Avril’s philosophies and generous advice, we’re sure you’ll enjoy every bit of it!
What inspired you to start your own business?
I became disillusioned with the large corporate world. People kept talking about change, equality, diversity and inclusion and about making workplaces more respectful. But I eventually realised there was a lot of what I call ‘’gum slapping” and not a lot of action.
Eventually I thought; “maybe I can have a greater impact if I try to make the changes from the outside instead of inside of organisations”. So I started my own business creating the work environment for my employees that I believe in, and finally, I had the freedom to be working aligned with my values. And by doing so I could help and show other organisations the way.
What are a couple of challenges you’ve had to learn to manage to get to where you are today?
You have to have self-belief. I have a philosophy I keep telling women especially: “If you don't believe in yourself, you don't have the right to expect anyone else to do so.” It comes down to two things:
1. Being tenacious. Many say that tenacity is about bouncing back from setbacks. But I believe that you instead should ask yourself "how do I bounce forward?"
2. “This too shall pass”. When we’re going through a bad time we have to remind ourselves that “This too shall pass”. Running a business is like a roller coaster - and so is life. We have to remember that after every dip there will be an up. And when we are on a high, we have to be mindful - not fearful - that a dip may come.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
In 1995, my manager and I introduced maternity and paternity leave at Westpac, making us the first ever company in Australia to do so. Something that people always said could not be done. But I am tenacious - quitting is never an option for me - and now my first daughter is about to have her first child and will benefit from this policy that I took part in instating over 20 years ago. It is not easy to have kids, so anything we can do to help young parents in society, we really should do.
I am also proud of the books I've written.
What do you still seek to achieve?
“In the next three to five years I want to get on boards. Boards are responsible for strategy and culture in organisations. Most get the strategy part right but get the culture wrong. I studied a global leadership program at Harvard and the main thing I took from that was: “The culture eats strategy for breakfast every day”. If you don't have a good culture, the strategy will fail.
In my mentor business the order of focus goes:
Because when people feel good about themselves they produce good results. If you look after the people, they look after the clients and by the clients coming back to you, the shareholders are looked after.
And of course it goes without saying; I also want to be the coolest, quirkiest Glam Mama!” Avril says with a contagious laugh.
What motivates you?
Making a difference. If what I do professionally or personally doesn't make a difference, then why am I doing it?
Fairness and equality. You can choose every day to be kind or to be right. I grew up in South Africa during apartheid and think kindness and paying it forward is more important than being right. Doing things and expecting nothing in turn, that is kindness. You get a lot of personal satisfaction from doing things just because you wanted to, not because of alternative intentions.
What is your way of creating balance in your life?
People create so much stress trying to achieve a perfect balance between personal time and work. I think it’s delusional and a waste of time to believe you’ll be able to achieve that.
For me balance is doing a good job, and to be there for my children. I replenish my energy by walking the dogs with my partner, who I love and who makes me laugh every day.
We are both busy and travel a lot, so quality time is much more important the quantity. One or two weekends a month we have what we call “hermit time”, where we don’t see anyone else other than each other and the dogs.
It is about being present and giving your friends and family undivided attention when you spend time with them. Work out how your friends and family like to spend the time with you.
What would be a quick tip you would share to help women become better at self-leadership?
Speak up about your achievements and be proud of them. Women constantly undermine themselves. And when you speak up, don’t allow people to interrupt you. Don’t say “sorry”, don’t say “excuse me”, just say “I wasn’t finished”.
Ask for what you want. Women tend to undermine their intellect and to always wait for others to notice them. Ask for what you want. If the answer is “no”, ask why.
What are your favourite designer labels and why?
It’s actually through Quirkee Birds I have been introduced to my three absolute favorite designers; Johnny Was, Odd Molly and Desigual. Every time I wear any of those labels, people comment on how great I look and wonder where I’ve got it from.
What do you like most about shopping at Quirkee Birds?
I love the selection! I don't like wearing the same things everyone else is, so I really like the unique styles you carry in your stores.
I am a great believer in quality and that good things in life are worth paying for. The garments you have are not just timeless, they last!
The other thing is that the team is very respectful and fun to deal with. They really know their customers. Every time I come in, they pull a few things out that they know I will like.
I don’t think I have ever gone in without ending up buying something, so now I sometimes have to just stop at the door to wave and say hello because I know if I go inside I’ll end up coming out with shopping bags I didn’t have on entry, she laughs.
Last question; if you had a billboard to write whatever you wanted on, what would it say?
It is the one thing you can do better than anyone else.
And with that, we thank Avril for not only taking the time out of her busy schedule to talk to us, but also for having so generously shared insights and practical tips that we all can implement in both business and our personal lives.
If you are interested in learning more about Avril, please visit her website www.avrilhenry.com. To buy any of her books, visit this page.
Thank you Avril, we warmly look forward to seeing you in the store again soon!
See, I told you it would be worth reading to the end! ;)
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