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  • Writer's pictureMichael Johnstone

Sparking an alive conversation

Case study: Thought leadership and keynote speaking


The principals of Vantage Point are sought after thought leaders, who regularly share their experience and ideas at conferences, seminars and executive team retreats.

We were recently asked to present a keynote at BHP’s Global Top team retreat - an annual meeting that brings the company’s senior 100 leaders together. This regular forum plays a critical role exploring “what is the case for change?” given that the basic charter has not changed for many years.

We noticed that there appeared to be a need for both strategic and cultural re-alignment within the company, as well as a recalibration of how leadership is thought of, and how it shows up on a day-to-day basis. There was an emerging recognition that technical, engineering and product skills and experience, while important, are probably not sufficient for leaders going forward, because they face a more complex business, social and political environment where solutions are not readily available. More flexible, collaborative and engaged leadership was required and by definition a wider set of skills and capacities, some of which are currently less well developed.

The operating environment for BHP, as a longstanding, global company, with strong roots in Australia, continues to change. Political and environment pressure, local country demands and company responses to many challenges were creating the need for senior executives to be clearer on their purpose, to develop a more engaged and empowered culture and to build an environment of shared responsibility and leadership for the culture of the company. Individual leaders can no longer hold the answers to all the problems facing them and, therefore, some adaptation in leadership practice is also required.

Together with an internal team which included the Chief People Officer and the Head of Leadership Development we designed a three hour session with a focus on adaptation and change could focus on the following themes:

  • Where is adaptation needed for the company and how to recognize the signals?

  • What leadership and cultural barriers are there to change?

  • How prepared are leaders for the challenges of change?

  • What are the characteristics of an adaptive culture?

The initial keynote morphed into a highly interactive session in which questions about strategy were translated into the need for different types of leadership. At one point, we challenged a particular participant to consider his own actions by asking “do you think you are exercising leadership right now, in this room? If so, what exactly are you trying to achieve?” This simple in the moment, just in time intervention, converted an abstract, more intellectual discussion into an alive and very relevant conversation that held the attention of all 140 leaders present.

In so doing we illustrated the power of our approach and the fact that there is always an opportunity to engage people “below the neck” into order to help them focus on what is most important to them and their business.

The session was highly rated and led to several other engagements with top teams.


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