We asked this straightforward question of Kristen Buik, Executive Director and Chair at Altitude Advisory recently at our Leading Teams Online Leadership Workshop.

The answer was less straightforward, and highlighted Kristen’s vulnerability, intentionality, and lifelong quest for learning.

Here are four things we learnt about leadership from listening to Kristen’s journey.

1. Defining moments

As a senior leader, Kristen reflected on three defining moments in her life that had a significant impact on what makes her the leader she is. Transformation and growth were intentional responses to what life threw at her.

The first was as a teenager, her 15 year old self felt unsettled and restless as she was pigeon-holed into who she was at school. So, with the support of her parents, Kristen packed up and travelled to the other side of the world for a year of education and travel, living with a family in Norway, and experiencing a lifestyle far removed from her roots in country Victoria.

This was a chance – a choice – to re-invent herself and focus on who she was and who she wanted to be, without the weight of expectations.

Her next defining moment was as a young mother of two small children, and experienced the devastating loss of her six month old baby. She was of course wracked with grief, and had to find a way to pull herself above the grief and be the mother to her child, wife to her husband and go on to have another child.

Kristen remembers, through the fog, “there were things to do” and her choice was to support her family to be the best person for them.

Her most recent defining moment came in 2019, when Kristen was invited to take on a senior role within her business. Kristen accepted the position and then suddenly felt like she didn’t have what it takes.

Her self-talk started to undermine her leadership presence and caused confusion, high levels of emotion, and a lack of control.

While her business was a client with Leading Teams, she made an intentional choice to work with a Leading Teams coach, Daniel Healy, re-set her priorities and identify what was important to her.

She describes that process as “bloody brilliant” and acknowledges the shift was “fast and magical.” People noticed the difference straight away, and that extended to her friends and family.


2. Being authentic

Kristen’s coaching led to her personal trademark being “do you, be you.” Her authentic self continues to be front and centre of everything she does, but Kristen does admit, that at times when she was challenged, like in 2019, that became unclear.

Finding herself in unchartered territory, she questioned whether she was really the same as the other leaders in the business. “I would speak up and no one heard me.

I became confused and tried to adopt a style more like them; be more like them. I thought that meant to be more assertive, have all the answers, not be gullible, be intelligent and wise. I lost me.” Soon after starting coaching she realised her core value was always the same – “to do something for work where every single day I could help others.” That is what Kristen had always done at work, that was the gap she filled in the office and that was what was noticed.

However, in her quest to be accepted at the big table, she had lost focus. Having Daniel as a coach from outside the business to ask the right questions and re-focus on the important things, quickly re-set her behaviours.

Kristen noticed the changes from the team, and on reflection has identified that the biggest change was in fact her own self talk and self belief.

3. Influence

We know leading is about influence – title or status doesn’t matter. During her career, Kristen realised the wider team were not getting the nurturing they needed. Like many businesses, the focus was on the doing (the mechanics) with little focus on the people side (dynamics). “So,” as Kristen says “I just started doing that…filling that gap, in an understated, quiet way.

The bosses soon recognised what I was doing, and they saw better work outcomes.” Previously, turnover was high, “so I just worked to remove roadblocks, and people became happier, did a better job and stayed in the business.” The team felt supported and importantly, there were significantly better outcomes for clients.

Kristen realised her influence needed to extend down, across and upwards in the business. While feeling confident in many of these elements, she questioned her ability to manage up. “I was invited into a club of very successful people, but I wasn’t one of them.” This is a pretty common feeling and is sometimes referred to as ‘Imposter Syndrome’ often limiting the resolve of even the most seemingly confident leaders.

Because of a high level of self-awareness, Kristen acknowledges it was time to break the cycle and re-claim her capacity to influence.

With significant intentionality, her influence on the wider team was expanded as Kristen stood up and took on the role as head of People and Culture, in addition to initiating an emerging leaders’ program to enable other leaders more effectively navigate the path she had been on.

4. Choice

“You always have a choice,” Kristen shares. Bad things happen, good things happen but how we respond to that is our choice. Part of her personal trademark – a beautiful life by design – captures her daily reminder of those choices. Blaming externalities can be a go-to response by many, but true leaders, great influencers know they have impact by their actions and take on the one thing they can control – their choice, their attitude.

Kristen’s commitment to choose through her three defining moments are evident. As a 15 year old seeking to be the person she was on the inside, and not defined by circumstances; after the tragic death of her young child to choose to swim, not sink; and in 2019 resolving to be the person she had lost sight of when she turned herself in knots trying to be what she thought others expected. But these choices were not made alone. What helped Kristen was her self- awareness, intentionality, and willingness to be supported by others.

High performing leaders are those who constantly seek to get better and bring others with them. The self-awareness to take a better path is the first step. Only when we are the best leaders we can be, can we lead others more effectively to better outcomes.

Listen to Kristen’s podcast and learn more about how Leading Teams helps individuals and teams become high performing.

Jenny Devine

Jenny Devine

Jenny joined Leading Teams after a varied career working with organisations and individuals as they undergo change, growth, and innovation. Jenny is based in Perth.

Learn more about Jenny.