Colleen Callander was born into a hardworking, business-oriented family with a never-ending to-do list. She has worked in the family brands since she was a child, with her first experience in retail at the age of 16. Unbeknownst to her at the time, this summer employment would pave the way for a 30-year career in retail, including 13 years at the head of two of Australia’s most recognisable fashion brands, Sussan and Sportsgirl. Her focus as an award-winning CEO was always on creating purpose-driven brands and winning cultures that allowed people to be inspired, empowered, and shine.
Colleen is the founder of ‘Mentor Me Women,’ the author of ‘Leader By Design,’ a Keynote Speaker, Business and Leadership Coach, and a Non-Executive Director at Best & Less Group, as well as a member of the Starlight Foundation Board.
In 2007, Colleen experienced burnout while juggling three small children and a high-profile job. She was about to give up everything: her job, her career, and her position of leadership – until fate intervened and allowed her to continue on her path to retail leadership.She says, “Burnout was a gift in some ways. It taught me that I could only be good to others when I was first good to myself, whether that was in my role as a mum, leader, friend, or partner.” She discovered the power of simple yet effective ways to stay on top of her health, career, and her life.
Colleen now shares her methods in her book Leader by Design and through the Mentor Me Women programme. She wants to urge all women to take care of themselves so they don’t end up on the train to burnout town like she did, and if they do, she wants to show them how to get off.
Below are the highlights of the interview conducted between the World’s Leaders and Colleen Callander.
Describe the Mentor Me Women offerings that address the needs of your customers.
Mentor Me Women is the platform through which I mentor women of all generations and from different walks of life. Executives, mums, start-up executives, students, young women starting out in their careers, senior leaders, and teachers. I have worked with all these women and more!
‘Mentor Me Women’ inspires and empowers women to lead with confidence in their own lives – whether that be in boardrooms, organisations, communities or even the home.
As a mentor, I guide, support, and challenge women to step outside their comfort zones, build on their leadership abilities, and set boundaries and goals that will empower them to take action both personally and professionally.
Mentor Me Women is about creating simple tools and actionable plans that allow women to navigate through life and leadership challenges, have a voice, step up, live with purpose and passion, and build real confidence both personally and professionally.
Enlighten us on how you have made an impact in this industry through your expertise in the industry?
I am always inspired by women supporting women, and that is what I have always tried to do, not only in my 13 years as a CEO but in the way I live my everyday life.
Today I am living out my purpose deeper and wider than ever before as I share my story, successes, failures, and experience through the Mentor Me Women Program, my book, Leader By Design, my leadership and coaching business, and as a keynote speaker.
Now more than ever, it’s crucial for women to support each other. Together we can create change, bring about equality and help women flourish in all aspects of their lives – not just in their careers.
Tell us more about your book, LEADER BY DESIGN. Why the title and what do you want to achieve?
I don’t believe we are born leaders: we all have the ability to become Leaders By Design. You can become the leader you want to be, the leader you want to have, and a leader people choose to follow.
In my book, Leader By Design, I share my story of finishing school at 16 and building my career from the ground up to become one of Australia’s inspiring female CEO’s. My story underpins my message that anything is possible if you are passionate, work hard and believe in yourself.
Leader By Design is part autobiography where I share my life’s journey, including how my upbringing shaped the woman and leader I am today.
I encourage women to find their voice, live with purpose, take charge of their own lives, challenge the status quo, live with genuine confidence, and discover their superpower.
Leader By Design also inspires all leaders to embrace a new era of leadership. One where we lead with kindness, compassion, collaboration, trust and authenticity, and one that puts people at the heart of everything we do. It is packed with tips, advice, insights, and guidance relevant to all generations and all ages – whether you’re climbing the corporate ladder, an entrepreneur, a volunteer, a teacher, a coach, a student, or working part-time. Regardless of where you are on your leadership or life journey, Leader By Design will inspire and empower you to believe in the power within, reach your full potential and create the life you deserve.
What people, what books, what life factors have influenced and impacted you?
Growing up and in the early days of my career, I looked up to and admired people with titles, levels of authority, rank, and positions of power, labelling them leaders. What I learned over time in both life and business is that these trappings do not automatically qualify a person for leadership. Leadership starts with a person. You don’t even need a title to be a leader. Every day we can lead our own lives, through every action, interaction, reaction, and decision we make.
From a young age, I was always intrigued with the way people behaved, both good and bad. What makes people treat others with kindness and respect? What made people step all over others for their own gain? What made some people create environments of fear, and others environments of collaboration? Why were some people caring and others cruel? Why were some generous and others greedy? Looking back, I now know that I was shaping myself into the leader I wanted to be by observation. I listened, I learned, I asked questions and I made mental notes. Without knowing it, I was becoming a Leader By Design.
What would be your advice to budding business leaders?
Great leadership starts with oneself. Knowing yourself, knowing your values, and knowing your purpose are the foundations of great leadership, no matter where you are on your leadership journey. I liken these foundations of leadership to building a house. When we build a house, the most important first step is to build solid foundations. If we don’t build solid foundations, cracks will start to appear and it won’t weather external elements and it won’t stand the test of time. As humans, and as leaders, we are the same. If we don’t build solid foundations for ourselves, then we won’t be able to weather those challenges that life throws at us.
When we truly know ourselves, that’s when we are ready to lead others.