New Faces: Diane Maxwell, Retirement Commissioner

New Faces - We find out who's new at the head of the New Zealand business world.

Diane Maxwell says leaders need to be brave and to keep challenging themselves. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Diane Maxwell says leaders need to be brave and to keep challenging themselves. Photo / Sarah Ivey

How is life at the top?

Not sure about the term "the top" but loving the job. It is rewarding, challenging and at times frightening, which is a great combination. My family may offer a different perspective based on the ongoing struggle to get work-life balance right.

How are you coping with the increased public profile?

Oddly enough it can distance you from people who perhaps don't speak their mind as freely or who become more formal with you. And I confess I changed from a food-stained T-shirt to a clean one to go to the playground at the weekend, lest I appeared unprofessional or, well, food-stained. But that phase didn't last long.

What's your top tip for being a successful leader?

Bravery. I think it's essential. I also think you need a restless mind, so that you keep challenging yourself and those around you, and you need a fundamental respect for people.

It also helps to keep a steady nerve and not be blown about by perceived slights or criticism. They may seem like a big deal, but actually they're not. It's just the hustle and bustle of making change.

What's the biggest challenge you've faced in getting to the top?

I'm a firm believer that the things that hold us back usually come from within and we do far worse things to ourselves than anyone else could ever do to us. Most external challenges can be dealt to more easily than internal ones. The biggest challenge for me was working out what I wanted to do and why. Once you get that sorted you're on your way. Sounds very Dr Seuss but there you go.

Who has inspired you in your career?

Probably more fragments of people and moments with people than any one person. I have been incredibly lucky to work for some outstanding people, which is critical for your own growth. Brave people, mavericks, people whose values came through in business decisions, who challenged the norms and managed change, and who cut to the chase. I would advocate strongly for finding someone you want to work for when making employment decisions. It matters.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My 11-year-old daughter, who still occasionally pulls out the "you're the best mum ever" line. I'm enjoying that while it lasts. She also believes that women can do anything, and has a long list of career ambitions. She's going to need several lives to fulfil them all, but to the earlier point about challenges from within, I love it that she thinks she can.

What do you do to relax and unwind?

I do find it hard to stand still after a really busy period at work and I need to make an effort to relax and unwind. My favourite thing is the family at the beach, with a chilly bin, bucket and spade and some sunshine. Children have a way of making the simple seem wonderful, and the brain stops churning and all is right with the world.

When you do take time out do you turn the phone off?

I don't. When my daughter was 5 she staged what could best be described as an intervention, and dropped my BlackBerry down the toilet. I have improved since then but I still haven't totally mastered the art of switching off. Problem is, you need to be driven to do the job, but not so driven that you lose your perspective. It's a fine line.

- NZ Herald

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