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Blog - Didier Elzinga, author profile

Didier Elzinga

Founder & CEO, Culture Amp


There are many people that have had an influence on my career, but just a handful have had a profound and consistent impact over the course of decades. They have not only helped me get to the next level at specific points along the way, but they have shaped my thinking, decision making process and leadership style.

The most important mentors I’ve had are:

  • Tony Clark, Wayne Lewis and Gail Fuller from Rising Sun Pictures who shaped my leadership style
  • Scott Farquhar from Atlassian who has changed how I look at challenges
  • My wife, Greta Bradman, who informs my perspective on psychology (and a whole lot more)

Good leaders care and role model behavior -  Tony Clark, Wayne Lewis and Gail Fuller

The first group of people founded Rising Sun Pictures; Tony Clark, Wayne Lewis, Gail Fuller and Steve Roberts. When Steve left relatively early on, I was asked to step into his place and operated like a junior partner in the business for many years. I was only 20 years old, but Tony, Wayne and Gail gave me the opportunity to grow with the company, eventually becoming CEO. To this day, so much of my leadership style was shaped by what I learned during my time at Rising Sun.

Tony, Wayne and Gail taught me how to build a successful business and how to win customers from the other side of the world. But the most important thing they taught me was how to care about the people you work with; they showed me that you can create a great business by caring.

Caring is one of the hallmarks of a great manager. It’s about being genuinely interested in people’s success and their well-being. Managers who care take time to get to know the individuals on their team and understand what makes them tick.

In the 13 years I spent at Rising Sun, one incident really stands out. We were working on the final shot of a film, a big, beautiful, star-filled shot. I was responsible for finishing the shot and had sent the tape to Sydney for production when Tony received a call from the director. The director was livid because we’d screwed up the shot, there were no stars in the star-filled shot. I was standing beside Tony as he politely listened and calmly agreed to fix it. He even delivered the tape to Sydney personally to make sure it got there in time for the screening.

As we quickly went through the process of correcting the mistake, not once did Tony blame me. He just took it on the chin and fixed the problem. It would have been easy for him to deflect the director’s anger onto me but instead he focused on solving the problem. This was true leadership.

It taught me that, while a leader must tell people if they’re not doing the right thing, they also have to shield them. Sometimes when things go really wrong you just have to focus on the end result and remove the roadblocks rather than pointing blame. That was a powerful lesson in leadership.

Another lesson I learned quite early on from Wayne, Tony and Gail was about backing your team and bringing them on the ride with you. We had entered the Entrepreneur of the Year awards and Ernst & Young questioned us about why we had four people on the ticket. They bluntly suggested that to improve our chance of winning we should remove my name because I was so junior. Without batting an eyelid, Wayne, Tony and Gail told them they would have to include all four of us or none at all. They publicly recognized that I was as much a part of Rising Sun’s success as they were.

This was a seminal moment in my career. It not only demonstrated the faith they had in me, but also opened a lot of doors. After we won our state I participated in a masterclass in Melbourne, where I met Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar of Atlassian.

Friends can be mentors who both challenge and support - Scott Farquhar

Meeting Scott and Mike was pivotal to my career. They have built an amazing business that continues to go from strength to strength. Together they helped me decide to create a software company and Scott has also acted as an advisor. He’s the person I call on for advice on anything from our strategic direction to making a big hire.

Scott is both a mentor and my friend. While it’s not for everyone, I believe it can actually be helpful to have friends who are also mentors. It works for us because we never let our friendship get in the way. Scott’s feedback can be direct and ruthless, which I really admire and respect.

He thinks about things in a different way to me. He’s very analytical, clear thinking and disciplined in the way he approaches things. While I might let my intuition or emotion drive my thought process, he has a wonderful way of cutting through that and helping me see what I need to consider to progress. He’ll prompt me with questions that make me think about things I might otherwise have overlooked.

Scott has introduced me to many new and interesting things like Topgrading. This is a behavioral interviewing model that has completely shaped how I hire. It’s very tactical and valuable, but it’s one of those things that I may never have come across if he hadn’t brought it to my attention.

He has also unknowingly shaped our strategy and how we execute on our plan. It’s not unusual for Rod, Doug, Jon and I to say “What would Scott do?” We can almost hear his voice telling us that we’re over-engineering, pushing too far or not thinking about something we should be.

Scott also helps me look at some of the harder aspects of management with a different lens. For example, when you have to let someone from your team go, Scott has explained to me why it’s not helpful to apologize. You can feel compassion and do everything in your power to help them deal with the situation, but you can’t apologize. It’s disingenuous because it’s not about me, it should be about them. This perspective has really helped frame how I approach these hard situations.

We bonded over our mutual experiences of the pressures of running a company, and we can now turn to each other for support and to discuss the issues we’re facing. There aren’t too many people I can do that with.

Understanding the intersection between psychology and organization - Greta Bradman

My wife, Greta Bradman, is one of my most important mentors. Obviously, as my wife, she’s the person I turn to when I have a difficult decision to make and she gives me the strength to do the things I need to do, supporting me through the challenging calls. But her role as my mentor extends past our partnership.

Greta is a classically trained opera singer who performs to huge crowds all over the world. With her experience in performance she has taught me an enormous amount about how to present and speak publicly. Watching her perform I’ve learnt how to channel emotion and turn it into a powerful tool.

She is also a psychologist and was a PhD candidate. She has a deep understanding in modern psychology, particularly around performance psychology, positive well-being and mindfulness. Her knowledge has helped shape many aspects of how I understand psychology and its impact on Culture Amp’s business.

Greta has the ability to get right to the core of a principle by pulling the whole thing apart and then reconstructing it in a way that makes sense. I'll often seek her guidance to help me understand the psychology behind aspects of our product, how I mentor people, even the way I lead. Her knowledge and thinking has framed so much of my own thought processes about the intersection between psychology and organization.

One particular capability that she has taught me is to have the courage to be vulnerable. She introduced me to the work of Bren�� Brown and helped me understand vulnerability in a deeper and very different way. Vulnerability is not a weakness; when you scratch below the surface and really understand it, it is a strength. This knowledge is an important part of Culture Amp’s culture.

Vulnerability goes to the heart of our culture, what we want to achieve and how we want to interact. It’s Greta who gave me the words to describe what vulnerability means to our organization and why it’s so powerful.

There are many other people that continue to influence my career. They challenge how I think on a daily basis and are instrumental in moulding my thinking and leadership style. Everyday I speak to founders who are incredibly valuable sounding boards. But I credit Tony, Wayne, Gail, Scott and Greta for having the most profound and consistent impact on my career, and I’m immensely grateful to them.


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