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STEPHEN CARTER | Partner - Sharp & Carter

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Australian culture is very down to earth. If you drive a Ferrari, you’re more likely to be branded “ostentatious” and have a key dragged down the side of your car, than you are to be applauded and perhaps told “good on you, you’ve really made it!” as may happen in other cultures.

 The reason for this is that in Australia we are, generally, a humble people. And this is a value which we at Sharp & Carter really respect, and that forms the final of our culture pillars. In previous articles I have spoken about our first three culture pillars of Trust, Generosity and Care, and now it is time to round it out with number four – Humility.

In 2012, Google undertook a study titled “Project Aristotle”. The purpose of this study was to discover the commonalities in high performing teams – what makes one? Initially, the study really struggled as there weren’t really any common traits between team members in the obvious categories of skills, education, the way they were structured or organised, intellect, seniority, or personality types.

Upon further study though, what the project did ultimately end up finding was that one commonality between these teams was “psychological safety”. In layman’s terms; no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office, they don’t want to leave part of their personality or inner workings at home.

Many might ask, what exactly does it mean to be fully present at work, and to feel ‘‘psychologically safe?” It means knowing that we can be free enough to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. That we can talk about what is messy or sad or have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy.

 In other words, we need to be able to be authentically ourselves. And authenticity requires vulnerability, which in turn, requires humility.

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In my opinion, good leadership requires three things: courage, relationships and empathy. The first two pretty much speak for themselves, however empathy is one that has layers – really, it is derived from humility. A quote I read recently from Seth Godin put it simply as; “Empathy can only occur in direct proportion to our own self-acceptance”. It can only occur if we are humble.  

What this means essentially is that it is only by being aware of and accepting the flaws of our own emotions and our own minds, that we are then able to look at the flaws of the emotions and minds of others, and rather than judge them or hate them, feel compassion for them. Empathy, and humility, are not qualities easily associated to someone who might also be labelled arrogant or lacking in self-awareness.

How we achieve humility in our leadership at Sharp & Carter is not dissimilar to how we achieve trust, generosity or care, our other three pillars – it starts at the top (or the bottom as you will read later!).

In Jim Collins’ book “From Good to Great”, substantial research is utilised to show that humility predicts effective leadership. Humility is associated with minimising status differences, listening to subordinates, soliciting input, admitting mistakes and being willing to change course when a plan seems not to work.

 In minimising status differences at Sharp & Carter, every year we set an overall business sales target, which if reached, rewards the entire business with a long weekend away together. In most organisations, this is a reward only achievable by the highest billers – at Sharp & Carter it is everyone. This means that each and every person contributes and each and every person gets rewarded. Furthermore, in reference to my Ferrari comment earlier – at Sharp & Carter we provide cars to Partners, but to keep them humble (as well as to avoid their cars getting keyed!), and to further minimise status differences, we restrict the purchases to either a Mazda, Subaru or Toyota.

Bali, IND 2015

Bali, IND 2015

Cairns, QLD 2017

Cairns, QLD 2017

Queenstown, NZ 2016 & 2018

Queenstown, NZ 2016 & 2018

Hamilton Island, QLD 2019

Hamilton Island, QLD 2019


In terms of leading from a place of humility, humble leadership is really just another way of describing servant-based leadership. We have seen leaders at Sharp & Carter move into leadership roles and then become obsessed with outcomes and control and treat employees as a means to an end. But what this results in is employees who fear not hitting KPI’s, employees who fear failure, and as such, employees whose positive emotions decrease.

 In practicality, your starting point as a leader is critical – are you sitting on top “directing” or are you at the bottom “serving”? The mindset here is critical, are you the most important or are you the most valuable?  Humble leaders ask their employees what they can do to help make their role easier and more enjoyable, rather than try to control them. At Sharp & Carter, the responsibility of a leader is to increase the ownership, autonomy, and responsibility of followers — to encourage them to think for themselves and to try out their own ideas.

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As a group, the leaders at Sharp & Carter have all agreed that we exist to “Serve and care for our people to ensure their individual fulfilment. I often say to the leaders of Sharp & Carter that we (as leaders) are at the bottom of the food chain. In other words, the organisational hierarchy pyramid of Sharp & Carter is inverted with the pointy end at the bottom. In this way we have the decision-making power of all of our 115 people, rather than the decision-making power of just the elite 15.

For me personally, humility is probably one of my natural character strengths, but it is also one I work to practice on a daily basis. Just because I founded this company and my name is on the door does not mean that I am resting on my laurels and not constantly looking for ways to add value. I work hard to be a valued member of the team, I often apologise to our people for mistakes I have made, and I am endlessly pragmatic that the direction we have chosen has its positives, but also its negatives.

In summary, humility is hugely important in our business and I could talk about it for days, but I think two people far smarter than me sum it up pretty well:

 In Ryan Holiday’s book “Ego is the Enemy” he says; Ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Of repeating and retaining your success. It repulses advantages and opportunities. It’s a magnet for enemies and errors.”

 Another great reference is when nine-time Grammy–and Pulitzer Prize–winning jazz musician Wynton Marsalis once advised a promising young musician on the mind-set required in the lifelong study of music; Humility engenders learning because it beats back the arrogance that puts blinders on. It leaves you open for truths to reveal themselves. You don’t stand in your own way.… Do you know how you can tell when someone is truly humble? I believe there’s one simple test: because they consistently observe and listen, the humble improve. They don’t assume, ‘I know the way.’ No matter what you’ve done up to this point, you better still be a student. If you’re not still learning, you’re already dying.

Stephen Carter   Partner, Sharp & Carter 0411 543 833

Stephen Carter
Partner, Sharp & Carter
0411 543 833

STEPHEN CARTER | Partner - Sharp & Carter

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In previous articles I have written about the first two pillars of our culture – Care, and Generosity. In this article I want to write about our third – Trust.

Abraham Lincoln once said: “If you trust, you will be disappointed occasionally, but if you mistrust, you will be miserable all the time.”

I love this quote and try to live by it in all my personal interactions. At Sharp & Carter we utilise trust as a way to increase the engagement, motivation and the positive mindset of our team. We also utilise trust as the primary way of controlling our business which, from my understanding it is another behaviour that is fairly unique to Sharp & Carter and rare in the marketplace.

Generally, in life, and in a new job, people will be used to “earning” the trust of those around them, or of their employer. At Sharp & Carter, the moment we hire someone is the moment they have our trust. It is not something anyone has to earn, rather it is something that each and every person receives automatically. The onus on the team member is purely this: to retain it.

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Trust is not a tangible benefit, it’s not something you can physically hand to someone, it is something that you need to show through your actions as an employer. Probably the most tangible example of an employer showing trust is allowing employees to set their own schedules, or to work from home. Our office is very rarely entirely full, we have two offices in Melbourne which our staff work across, as well as a working from home policy, and some weeks there are staff I may not even see as our paths simply do not cross. To some employers this would be worrying, to me – it is just a by-product of trust.

One of the highest performers we have had at Sharp & Carter, and who we were sad to lose to a move overseas, was Hadleigh Fischer - a.k.a “The Chief”. An employee who was rarely in the office, Hadleigh was often out on the road meeting clients or working from home. Literally every day someone would ask us “Where’s The Chief?” And we would always answer “No idea”.

Our experience was that the more we trusted Hadleigh to do his role, and the more we gave him the flexibility he craved, the better he performed. To this day he holds a number of records around performance in our business and is a testament to the positive impact trust in our staff can have.

Now, it’s no secret that the vast majority of businesses are run and controlled using processes and systems – and of course these do also have their place at Sharp & Carter - however, in meeting with thousands of businesses across my 20 years in recruitment, what I have seen that invariably happens without a trust element being incorporated is that these processes and systems are structured to suit the lowest common denominator. I hear a lot of people within businesses talk about things like “Oh we used to be able to *insert work privilege here* but someone took advantage of the situation, so we had to shut that down”. It seems in most businesses that the masses pay for the sins of the individual, and it ends up that everyone gets managed like the one person that broke the trust.

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I actually struggled to start writing this article because I was asking myself “Can a business be fully controlled using trust?” And after pondering for a while I was stuck, because in actual fact, our overwhelming experience is that our business of 110 people cannot be controlled 100% using trust. So how can I be recommending this as an approach? How can I have trust has a central element of our culture when we consistently have 2-3% of our team that will take advantage of our trust?

Basically, I was asking the wrong question. What I should have been asking was “Can trust be just as, if not more effective in controlling a business than processes, systems, KPI’s and budgets etc?”

And the answer to that is an emphatic yes.

A real-life example of how there can be a failure of “processes and systems” over “trust”, is the departure of the CEO of ANZ Bank in New Zealand amid concerns he “mis-characterised” his personal expenses.

Banking is certainly more regulated than recruitment, and ANZ Bank’s policies and procedures would definitely be a lot more comprehensive and sophisticated than Sharp & Carter’s, and yet here we have its most senior executive in New Zealand not being “controlled” as they would like.

My point is that regardless of whether you utilise trust or processes and systems to control your business, you will still have 2-3% of people that don’t operate as you would ideally like.

So the question then becomes: Do you manage the remaining 97-98% of people like the others that have broken your trust? Or do you keep leading with trust? At Sharp & Carter we understand that there will be 2-3% of people that will take advantage of us, but that if we accept that and trust everyone, we will have 97% of people that are really engaged, enjoying themselves and who will guard what they have fiercely.

We have 105 people protecting the leaders of Sharp & Carter against the 5 people that are not doing the right thing. We have people that give discretionary effort in order to maintain an environment they value. It also increases innovation, teamwork and creates an environment where people will feel comfortable to admit to the mistakes they have made and ask for help.


Stephen Covey wrote a book called “The Speed of Trust” in which - among other things - he contrasts a typical command and control business with businesses like Sharp & Carter which have trust at their core. He succinctly summarises the advantages we have experienced as follows:

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What we know after 10 years of Sharp & Carter is that trust is no LESS effective in controlling our business than a more command and control model – it does not harm our business. But what we also know is that trust has been overwhelmingly integral to our growth, our culture, and our success.

I wonder, should more organisations look to adopt trust as a key part of how they operate, and unlock the advantages outlined?

Stephen Carter    Partner, Sharp & Carter 0411 543 833

Stephen Carter
Partner, Sharp & Carter
0411 543 833


THE INTERVIEW | RUNNING FOR MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS (MS)


WHO IS NIALL HOOLAHAN AND WHAT DOES YOUR ROLE AT SHARP & CARTER ENTAIL?

I’m 24 years old and have been working at Sharp & Carter for 3 years now. I first started at S&C as a graduate, and currently work in the Accounting Support team in North Sydney. I was born in Bathurst though I have been living in Sydney for the majority of my life. Outside of work I’m a mad rugby and cricket fan.

PATRICK RYAN, CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND WHAT YOUR ROLE IS AT SHARP & CARTER?

I recruit mid-level finance roles for Sharp & Carter on the North Shore of Sydney. I have been with the business over 2 years and have progressed from graduate level. Prior to this I studied Accounting and Marketing at the University of Technology Sydney and have grown up on Sydney’s North Shore.

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RECENTLY, YOU BOTH PARTICIPATED IN THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD HALF MARATHON TO RAISE FUNDS FOR MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS (MS) – WE UNDERSTAND THIS WAS DUE TO A CLOSE FRIEND RECENTLY BEING DIAGNOSED WITH THE CONDITION. CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT WHAT MS IS AND HOW IT IMPACTS THOSE WHO SUFFER?

MS is a condition affecting the central nervous system of the body. This leads to symptoms such as muscle weakness, lack of coordination and balance, vision problems and trouble with thinking and memory. There is still no cure for MS.

IN TERMS OF THE SMH HALF MARATHON, WHAT PREPARATION DID YOU NEED TO DO PRIOR TO TAKING PART IN THIS EVENT?

Luckily, we stay pretty active so we do a fair bit of running already, but we definitely increased the length of the runs over the couple of months leading up to it. Also, plenty of hills and laying off the beers on a Saturday night helped!!!

NOW THAT THE EVENT IS OVER, HOW SUCCESSFUL DO YOU FEEL YOU WERE IN RAISING AWARENESS AND FUNDS?

The initial goal was to raise $2000 but we ended up raising $10,000 which was a huge effort. We had plenty of questions after from people asking about it and also our singlets helped with the exposure.

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ARE THERE ANY LINKS YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH US TO HELP RAISE AWARENESS AROUND MS?

https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Get-Involved/Raise-Awareness

FINALLY, DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR OTHERS INTERESTED IN RAISING AWARENESS AROUND MS OR TAKING PART IN FUNDRAISING ACTIVITIES FOR SUCH A CAUSE?

Raising money for a charity or a cause definitely helps provide added incentive to finish an event, and also doing it with your mates is very rewarding.

Niall Hoolahan
nhoolahan@sharpandcarter.com.au  

Patrick Ryan
pryan@sharpandcarter.com.au


STEVIE SAYS...

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No, I am not talking about having a sausage sizzle outside head office. Nor am I saying for you to jog with the running gait of a giraffe like our now besieged and grossly unpopular leader of the opposition. I am saying you as the hiring manager, should be steadfast in your policies, benefits, and why the people should get behind you and show their support beyond the 9-5.

Is voting something you do with pride, or do you not have the faintest idea what the difference is between the Senate and the Coalition? Do you like short-term benefits, or is it all about long-term, sustainable success?

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The current job landscape we see as recruiters often mirrors the merry-go-round in government. Employees are given less than a full-term to prove their worth before the knives come out. The ground beneath them comes shaky and what’s left is a battle for survival at the polls, so to speak. This forces voters (or stakeholders) to go back to the safest option for right now. This isn’t sustainable in the long run.

I urge decision makers to be bold and insist on clear cut policies about what their employees will do once elected (or hired). Don’t fluff about with superfluous benefits and keep the objectives and success criteria simple. Take a risk to let people develop into great employees and leaders, instead of constantly holding by-elections.

Lastly, as an employer don’t over-promise and under-deliver. Keep your policies relevant, and make sure the candidates feel safe picking you for the full-term!

Stephen Christofakakis
Consultant, Sharp & Carter
schristo@sharpandcarter.com.au