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Sara Watts

  • Programme: Proteus
  • Nationality: Australian

With qualifications including a BSc from the University of Sydney and an MBA from Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Sara worked for more than 28 years at IBM Australia and New Zealand,and became CFO in 2008. Soon after attending the Proteus programme in 2014, she took on her new role as Vice-Principal (Operations) at the University of Sydney.

Gaining insights

I was looking for an alternative executive education programme and Proteus was just that. There is nothing else like it. I wanted an executive education experience that would pique my interest, that wasn’t necessarily classroom-based, and that would teach me more about myself and becoming a more effective leader. I was at a turning point in my corporate career and it was time to determine my next steps and shape my legacy.

Being bold

Proteus more than lived up to my expectations. The introspective work, including the task of drawing up our life lines, gave me a profound sense of self awareness and valuable insight into how others perceive me. Historically I’ve found that my initial reserve can hold me back. Over the course of the week, I worked to overcome this and practiced being more open with others. It has really paid off – when I’m immediately more open, others are too, and our encounters are far more effective. Proteus taught me that it was a matter of being brave.

The power of ensemble

There were many highlights and the experiential teaching encouraged us to learn in new ways. We talked to different experts each day and tried new things – for example we observed primate behaviour at London Zoo and linked that back to human behavioural traits. We often forget to challenge the organisational processes that bind us – when in fact,breaking through a boundary can enable creativity and new ideas. A key learning was in the drama workshop.We learned about the power of ensemble, in which leadership passes to the people in the team who have the most appropriate skill set for the task. Shifting the focus from a single leader allows us to put our job titles(and ego!) aside, work out what we bring to this collective, and how we can deliver the best result. It really brought home how human ego and the importance of our job titles can get in the way of effective business.

Learning in London

The London setting was a major enticement for me for reputational, central location and cultural reasons. At the end of the week, we visited an inner-London high school where I found the stories of students we met both humbling and inspiring. After Proteus, I took a few days off and immersed myself in the city’s culture.I saw West End shows, explored museums and absorbed the huge range of art and culture on offer. It was wonderful!

A creative new chapter

Proteus was intense, profound and fun. There was a lot of laughter. The learning that I carry with me are a belief in the power of simplicity, ensemble and play,and a fuller recognition of access to human potential. I am now bolder, more open, more creative and more innovative. These are attributes I already had, however didn’t recognise in myself. I’ve moved from a senior role in the IT sector to Vice-Principal of a University where I’m excited about guiding the next generation in their journey to change the world. It’s a terrific opportunity and Proteus gave me the self-assurance and confidence to accept this new challenge. My move into higher education marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter in my career and I can’t wait to start making a difference.