Kristen Keegan is the Chief Executive Officer of the Hunter Business Chamber. With almost 2000 members this is the largest regional business chamber in Australia. Kristen was the first woman to be appointed to the CEO role at the Chamber when she took up the position in March 2011.
Her background is based on a Law and Administration Bachelor Degree from the University of Newcastle. She later complimented this with a Graduate Diploma in Industrial Relations also at the University.
Kristen grew up in Denman and remains committed to making the Hunter a great place to live and work.
- As the CEO of the largest regional business chamber in Australia, what leadership traits have you witnessed locally that you find are the most successful?
I think the Hunter region is renowned for those people and organisations that actively collaborate. To me, in this region we’re quite unique in that we work together. So that’s a fantastic trait that I’ve witnessed a lot from both large and small businesses. Collaboration is important.
But in terms of leadership you’ve sometimes got to make those hard decisions as well and stick them. And not just stick to them, but enact them and bring people along as well. So if there are changes that need to be made that’s certainly something that I’ve seen that Hunter businesses are able to do. The collaboration piece is certainly something that sticks out when I travel to other regions across the state or country, I really do notice that we seem to have that edge in terms of working together, which is quite refreshing.
- What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
I think there are a multitude of challenges. But personally, it’s probably time and technology. Plenty of us experience the 3am ping as new emails come through. Setting boundaries for a lot of leaders is a really hard thing to do. To get that work/life balance right is one of those elusive terms that we all struggle with ‚Äì I certainly do.
If we’re to be effective leaders we need a well-rounded life. For a lot of us we get caught up in the work side of things, without necessarily paying the attention to our private lives that we should. If there’s a way to switch off and turn off the technology we should be doing that and I should certainly be doing that more.
- How do you define the difference between a Manager and a Leader?
I think it’s pretty common knowledge that manager tends to work on an operational level, where leaders are more strategic.
You’ve probably heard that answer over and over, however managers can be leaders too, team members can be leaders too. It doesn’t really matter what your role is within an organisation, you can develop and show those leadership traits and I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that. So you could be the receptionist or the CEO, it doesn’t matter what your role is within an organisation ‚Äì you can demonstrate those leadership traits.
Every one of us are on a journey career-wise as well as life-wise and through that journey you can establish and show those leadership traits, regardless of what your role is at that point in time.
- What leadership style do you use?
It’s always hard to talk about yourself, but I try to be as inclusive as I possibly can. All views are valid. The team here at the Hunter Business Chamber is a happy team and we all get the chance to contribute.
I’d like to think I lead by example, if there’s a job that needs to be done I roll my sleeves and do it ‚Äì doesn’t matter if it’s setting tables, stuffing envelopes or writing the strategic plan. If you lead by example and let other people have a say in the direction of the organisation, that’s a pretty successful way to steer the ship.
Nothing is ever perfect though and things are a challenge, but I think as long as people are open and honest and able to contribute that’s great. But at the end of the day it lands to me to make those hard decisions at times, that we all have to make, as long as people understand why we’re doing that.
- What local businessperson do you find inspiring?
Now you know I’m going to get in serious trouble if I name just one person! In terms of the Hunter we are spoilt for choice.
There are so many people doing inspiring things, but in particular in our small business sector there are a lot of quiet achievers out there. Who get on and do things ‚Äì extraordinary things, world-class things ‚Äì whether it be in manufacturing, professional services, whether sector they’re in. So I find a whole range of people inspiring ‚Äì as I’ve got almost 2,000 members these days if I just pick the one I would be in all sorts of trouble!
There are individuals that come through that I get to work with them and from time to time I look at them and think “That’s extraordinary”. If you want to find more examples of who we find inspiring our Awards program is on soon, and our Hunter Biz always has examples of these people too.