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Bossing It: Honesty and Transparency with Andrew Cornale

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With over 10 years experience in UI development, Undigital's Andrew shares the importance of hindsight and the balance of skill and passion in a successful leader

Bossing It: Honesty and Transparency with Andrew Cornale

Andrew has 10+ years of experience across UI Development, tech direction and software consulting working with some of Australia’s best brands and agencies.

Andrew specialises in programming pixel perfect UI and working with other software engineers to craft outstanding technical solutions to real business problems.

He also has experience leading NSW Government projects including adhering to Government UI guidelines along with multiple projects for Westpac, Nestle, Channel 7, NBN, Pepsi and Amazon.

What was your first experience of leadership?

Andrew> My first tangible encounter with leadership was during my time at a digital marketing startup, I was still a teenager but had become extremely skilled in the developer role. The management team were impressed by my technical capabilities and also recognised my strength in working within a team and leading others. As a result, I was tasked with building a web development team to support the businesses growth.

How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Andrew> I think this is an ever moving target, that continues to evolve as both I and the business do. I’ve always wanted to be a strong and fair leader, which in theory is great but until a few years ago when my business didn’t succeed - I learnt a lot more from my failures than from my success. My leadership technique felt right at the time but in hindsight, it was all wrong. I judged performance based on who showed up on time and logged the most billable hours, when really, it was the team members who might have arrived late but had passion, ideas, patience and skill. I myself understand the challenges of being human and that life happens, leading with empathy at the forefront of all I do has proven extremely successful and resulted in a work environment that allows everyone to thrive in a safe space. 

What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

Andrew> The day I closed the doors on a business that I had spent eight years building, I learned my biggest lesson in leadership. Sure, I had a talented team and the business was making money but I genuinely wasn’t happy and the issue was obvious. The business had a toxic culture and as a result, every day felt unfulfilling and empty. At that point in time, I knew I’d make a comeback, but first, I needed to walk away, re-group and plan my next move. This was one of my biggest lessons in leadership and reshaped my perspective, attitude and approach to management. 

Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Andrew> Unknowingly yes, upon reflection it's been who I am from day one. There isn’t much of my childhood, adolescence or current life that hasn’t involved me taking lead in some shape or form. I started my career at a young age and landed myself in a leadership role soon after, since then I have continued to grow and develop these skills and it’s a role I feel most comfortable in. Not for the sake of being in charge, but because I believe my leadership approach brings out the best work in not only my team but myself. 

When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Andrew> I think wanting to be a leader is a natural part of personality but putting it into practice and doing a good job of it is a learned behaviour. No one wakes up and does it flawlessly. However, the drive to lead is something I feel has always been part of my personality and without that, I wouldn’t have sought out the tools to do it properly. Almost any skill can be taught but passion is often what makes a leader great, and that’s something they need to bring to the table themselves. I’ve always found this question to be a Catch-22: you can be born with skill or born with passion, but without perseverance it doesn’t matter. I think the most successful leaders have a combination. 

What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Andrew> Everyone has those slow or tired days but when you’re the one everyone relies on for direction and to set the standard, it can feel like you don’t have time for an ‘off’ day. UnDigital’s entire ethos is around delivering positive experiences so coming to work with a positive energy is essential. It’s one of the best parts of my job, but bringing energy every day can be challenging, especially if there’s background noise clouding the day a bit. It’s totally acceptable to have days when you’re off your game, we are only humans. I think it's a fine balance of staying relatively composed so employees feel like they’re in a stable environment, but also letting them know it's ok to not be ok every single day. Fortunately with culture and positivity being our ethos, bad days often turn good in an environment that fosters such a supportive and healthy energy. 


Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Andrew> Yes and often. I’ve introduced services that don’t work, I’ve created brands or sub brands that don’t work, I’ve hired the wrong staff. You’ve got to be able to self-analyse, reflect and learn. You need to be able to look back on a decision you’ve made and be unbiased in judging its success. If it’s a failed or wrong decision, I just own up to it, correct it and move forward. I think it's super important to remove the stigma around ‘failure’ and how the word is interpreted, my ‘failures’ have all been catalysts for my greatest success. I’ve always been a big fan of the old saying along the lines of a lesson learned is not a failure, but the failure to learn is. 

In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be as transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Andrew> Honesty and transparency is usually the right approach but I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule for it. You can’t be so transparent that you have a bad day, month or week and you tell everyone about it and it creates panic and cultivates an unhealthy workplace. I think it’s all about the bigger picture. You need to be authentic about the journey, the vision, the progress and the hurdles in getting there but the finer details don’t always need to be communicated. As long as the bigger picture is communicated honestly and the right people know the right information. 

As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

Andrew> I look up to a lot of people but I don’t have a specific mentor. I’m a really big fan of building relationships and throughout my career, I’ve been lucky enough to have great ones. A lot of the friends that I’ve made are mentors and they don’t even know it. I always make an effort to catch up with business owners in similar positions as me so we can share learnings - I think an open conversation is important. You’ll often find that the issues you’re having are not unique to your situation. A coffee and a catchup is one of my favourite ways to start and maintain relationships. 

It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Andrew> We’re not superheroes, we’re humans and I think that’s really important. During difficult times, I generally spend a lot more time planning and discussing these plans with my business partner. The odd day at home planning in my home office while my 'out of office' is on really helps. Then, it’s all about being confident and assertive in your approach, this includes communicating to the team what you’re doing and what the plan is. You can’t fake confidence… well you can but it’s not believable, and it isn’t a safety net. Leading a team through a crisis requires robust financial and business planning so I spend the time creating plans for various situations so I can be confident I have an answer for every outcome. I lead and communicate our plans to the team with a failsafe under my belt. 

This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?

Andrew> I feel very strongly about this, we have a kick-ass team in Vietnam that I consider to be a huge contributing factor to our business and its success. I’ve had an array of ‘choice’ questions about how it must be hard to manage them or is the cost saving worth it? Breaking this stereotype has been something I’ve been working passionately on over the last year and you’ll find quite a few pieces written by myself on the matter. It’s not a measure made to save money and I think this is something that needs to be distinguished amongst others. I genuinely believe it's all about kindness and finding people that embody that. Any other supposed ‘differences’ that have limited diversity from progressing have no place in my company. 

How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?

Andrew> It is literally the number one focus of our business. Without our culture, our brand and mission is meaningless. It doesn’t matter if we are at home or at the office, consistent communication is key. Online chats, video calls, virtual brainstorms etc as well as an open ear for anyone that needs to chat, both in a professional and personal sense. Empowering the team to rise up into roles and challenges that align with their goals by giving them the support, the tools and a ‘you’ve got this’ mantra are undeniably essential. There is room for everyone in your company to experience their own success, be it in small milestones or big achievements. Acknowledgements, and genuine appreciation go a long way. Being present and aware of the contribution your staff make to the day to day of the business has seen UnDigital thrive in a period where many others have suffered. 

What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Andrew> There’s tons of books, social channels and LinkedIn connections that I follow and immerse myself in but I really think the best resources are your own network. It’s amazing what you can learn by having an open conversation with someone. I do love motivational speakers like Kerwin Rae and people that chant positive, forward thinking mantras. These aren’t so much aligned directly with leadership but more so with the quality of life and leading one that truly makes you and the people you surround yourself with happy. This source of positivity largely supports and nurtures the relationships I’ve built with other leaders along the way.

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Undigital, Tue, 06 Jul 2021 11:07:13 GMT