Once a new CEO of a complex business understands the positive impact good leadership can have on staff and outcomes and identifies a need for change, a key challenge is finding an effective way forward.

This was indeed Grant Gilfillan’s "key challenge" when he joined Sydney Ports Corporation (now the Port Authority of New South Wales) as its Chief Executive Officer in January 2008.

He considers himself a change agent with a passion for leading cultural change within an organisation to make it a great business: “Having been exposed to culture changing models and philosophies during my years in mining with CRA [now the global mining company - Rio Tinto], I was looking for something similar to help stimulate a profound change in the way our staff engage, interact and perform.”

Grant knew that “leadership came first” and it would take leadership more than management to take the organisation where it needed to go.

A Google search on leadership training reveals more than half a million hits and with so many courses available on leadership training, the task of finding the right course, tailored to specific needs, was always going to be difficult – until he met Mark Oliver, the Managing Director of MarkTwo Consulting.

Mark crafted an intensive leadership experience which would make a step change in managers’ leadership capability, targeting the top 24 managers. He came back with a two stage leadership immersion program, with an initial 4-day offsite providing deep insights and experiences in the art of leadership and the four ways to lead, followed up with a 3-day intensive focusing on one of these ways (coaching leadership) and using actors to maximise the learnings. The aim was to create more conscious leadership amongst the management team. Grant also committed to going through the first program in full and was so impressed that he attended all of the subsequent sessions as both an observer and mentor.

Leadership Program

Mark warned that these programs would be intensive and challenging, taking everyone out of their comfort zone (including the facilitators!). The program was designed to achieve several things including:

1) Give massive insights into the reality and practice of leadership (see exercise...)

2) Allow participants to share a very challenging experience which leads to very strong bonds - and lots of humour (watch webinar...)

3) Improve the leadership culture further (treating cause not symptom...)


As Grant has suspected, big change was in the air for Sydney Ports as the Australian New South Wales State Government put up Botany Bay for sale in 2012 (and the expert advice was that it might sell for $2.1Bn, if the Government was lucky).

It sold in 2013 for over $5Bn and the equity buyers stated that they were prepared to pay so much more because it was in such good shape. Grant said the MarkTwo Leadership courses which have run through the organisation from the CEO down, over the last 3 years directly contributed to the extra $3Bn raised.

1) Qualitative Results

"I did want to thank you for a fantastic course. I found it very interesting, it was well structured and I really enjoyed the mix of theory and practical work. I believe I have taken away a lot of positive things from the course and have been able to identify in my private life (as well as work) ways to put the lessons into practice... I would love to extend the course into another phase" - Marika Calfas, General Manager Planning

"Just a short note to say thank you for... the managerial leadership training. It was a fantastic course and the last 3 days were simply brilliant... an excellent programme for Sydney Ports [Corporation] which will serve us well for a long time to come - Lachlan Benson, Executive General Manager, Industry Relations & Logistics

2) Quantitative Results

122 of SPC’s (Sydney Ports Corporation) senior managers and staff in the organization completed a leadership program with MarkTwo Consulting:
     •98% of participants reported that they would recommend this training to others,
     •99% of all participants rated the program as very good (99% believed they would be better leaders for it).

3) Extension to all Employees

The results have been so beneficial for the managers that it was decided that all employees should be offered the chance to gain from the training, and so help the organisation more widely. Therefore, a one day short version of the MLT was rolled out to all employees in 2012 (called the SIGNALS course). It got similarly high participant evaluations.

3) Targeted Executive Coaching

Out of the program, managers individual needs were identified and where appropriate they were offered Executive Coaching to support their own growth and help them play a more substantial part of the culture change.

5 Critical Success Factors

1) The CEO attending the leadership sessions demonstrated significant support beyond any words (read CEO's bio)

Taking groups offsite and running a leadership program that reinforced the process (see program details)

3) Using a leadership program that was a leadership rather than just a management program (read key difference...)

4) Starting the training from the top managers down (view webinar for key understanding of leadership)

5) Extending the training to all staff through a very short version of the managers training so that core understandings and models from the development were known and accepted throughout the organisation (read about the models...)

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Final comment from the CEO of Sydney Ports Corporation

Grant has also been on the most widely acclaimed leadership courses available in globally as well as Australia and said: "When Mark came along and agreed to craft a Leadership Training programme to suit SPC’s needs, I naively expected something similar to my own experiences. I was therefore delighted to find that Mark has developed his own and far more comprehensive and usable models to help people understand themselves and how to be a better person and a better leader. The UHM has been life changing for many of our staff and a great investment for the company. It has been life changing for me.