Being real and cutting through the business jargon

No buzzwords and no bullsh*t.

In the latest edition of The Brief, we spoke with Alicia McKay about her authentic approach that has resonated with industry leaders in Australia and New Zealand.


The New Zealand author, speaker, facilitator and coach was raised in a dysfunctional family and in foster care as a teenager, and had her first daughter at 16. She knew early on that education was going to be a game changer for her.


“I think a tumultuous early life prepared me well for life as an entrepreneur – I am used to taking risks and living on the edge. I was lucky enough to have a well-functioning brain,” she said.


After finishing university and stepping out into the world of work, Alicia felt she did not fit in and thought she was the problem. But when she made the decision, as a mother of two young girls at 25 years old, to leave her employment and step out on her own, she found it was the process of how things were being done that was the problem, not her.


“When I became self-employed and started engaging on a personal level with my clients, most of who were senior people doing really important stuff, I found the more real I was, the more real other people were and I started to build really meaningful connections,” she said.


Alicia brought that same energy into her workshop and training seminars, speaking real language that addressed people’s real challenges. Alicia was connecting with people on their level and that was when she struck the heart of what makes it hard to implement big ideas and started to push for real change.

Alicia will be speaking at the RCSA SHAPE conference on March 23 and 24, 2022, in New Zealand. She will share tips about how people and leaders can make decisions to transform their lives, teams and organisations.


Alicia said despite appearances, most people were having a really hard time at the moment as stress levels were high, resilience was low, and the pressure to show up and do a good job was more intense.

“I want people to know that they are not the only one struggling right now,” she said. “Everything seems important, and it all seems too hard, but it does not have to be like this. There is a better way, a more sustainable way, and I want to help them find it. The real answer to coping is not band-aid strategies, it is serious strategic management of life and work goals. How could you not come (to SHAPE)?”


Over the years, Alicia has helped many industry leaders and professionals achieve the impact they want to have on the world but there are still areas that need to be addressed.


She explains it is ironic the five most important things the industry is falling short in are exactly the things that are not taught. What is needed is enduring skills that support people through ongoing uncertainly no matter what happens.

  1. Flexibility: flexible leaders know that leadership is not about getting things done despite their environment but because of it.

  2. Decisions: making good decisions is a learned skill. Decisive leaders know it is not what they think but how they think that matters, focusing on providing direction that drives action.

  3. Systems: strategic leaders think in systems because they know that successful organisations dismantle siloes and work out how things fit together. Systems leaders do not settle for what is in front of them, focusing instead on the messy stuff – context, relationships, and dependencies.

  4. Performance: true performance is not operational excellence or time management – it is focus. Strategic leaders understand their most valuable resource is their attention, optimising their environment and teams to invest in the factors that make a real difference.

  5. Influence: influential leaders know that political savviness is not something to be avoided, it is non-negotiable for impact at scale. They know that their integrity, reputation, and relationships are what makes the difference.

“Ultimately in the knowledge economy, we have access to all the technical information and instruction at the touch of a button,” she said.


“If you need finance knowledge, watch a 15-minute video, and if you need marketing expertise, Google a freelancer, and book the job online. But if you need to understand how best to adapt to your environment, how to make quality decisions that capture the big picture, how to drive focus and how to take people along on the journey, that is when it’s time for strategic change.”


It is not all doom and gloom; Alicia has been witnessing some positivity. She explains the pandemic has changed the way people show up at work and has helped people to become more integrated. Everyone has had to dial-in from home with overflowing washing machines and children in the background, so a lot of the façade has had to slip away.


She said as things started to return to somewhat normal, the sense of realness and authenticity had remained. The challenge is to keep that up because when we are real, others can be to, and we can get so much further when we are not wasting our energy trying to be something we are not.


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