Leaders understand that it’s easy for work to become an ‘egocentric system’ where it’s ‘all about me’. Evidence of egocentric systems will show up as top-down control, independent silos, territorial power struggles, self-interest, withholding information and blame.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Vanessa Gavan. Since founding Maximus over two decades ago, Vanessa has built a reputation as the challenger invited to partner with Australia’s most ambitious boards and executives. By bringing a relentless obsession with purpose-driven impact, Vanessa aims to ignite potential at scale.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. We would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

Iam an advocate for the criticality of strong leadership and legacy having witnessed the impact of great leadership and its absence. I believe leadership is both a privilege and responsibility and that connecting personal purpose with a compelling future-focused organisational vision leads to the creation of visionary companies.

Two of the life experiences that have shaped my current self are:

  1. Starting Maximus International at age 27, and now 22 years later seeing what impact we have created and continue to create for our clients from banks to start-ups. Working with leaders across Australia and abroad has been an absolute privilege. Seeing the impact that they have made on their people, peers and their broader community makes my life work extremely rewarding.
  2. Becoming a mother and balancing my personal and professional priorities over the years. Learning how to experience the joys of both and be present for my work and family has been the most rewarding journey.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

Working from home through the pandemic brought humanity to the workplace. People connect with what they can see and, suddenly, we have this visibility into people’s homes, their kids and their other responsibilities. Like anything, there are bright spots and there’s a shadow side.

What people went through during lockdowns, we won’t forget for a long time. But I like to focus on the good things, including the role that organisations now play in focusing on the wellbeing of their people.

It’s important for organisations to embrace the notion of what it takes to have a well-functioning workforce. While there is no single, one-size-fits-all solution; these three things matter right now when it comes to creating workplaces people want to come to; not leave from:

  1. Bring back the joy of connection — Leaders should be advocating around ensuring we include moments of absolute joy in our new ways of working. This includes how we use our physical environment to foster a sense of inclusion.
  2. Bring back the sense of challenge and ‘stretch’ — It’s so important to move beyond ‘playing it safe’ towards striving to achieve incredible things as a team again. This builds purpose and fulfilment.
  3. Change up the conversation — Where you choose to work should never be about ease and efficiency, but rather leadership and intent. It’s all about who ‘where you are’ matters to; and how your choices affect your team.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

For us at Maximus International, we like to understand the importance of going back to the basic principles of why tribes exist — to stay safe, to connect, to belong, and to share wisdom. Tribe’s venture but come back. People have a place to belong to and that place provides conditions that are fulfilling. Consulting is a great example — you are out all the time, so people have expectations and needs for their time in the office and at home. We believe people need a balance of all three and the extent is different based on their remit and accountabilities. This approach needs to be carefully considered across all layers of the organisation and in the context of the industry and service the company operates in.

Hybrid and flexible work are just standard practice now for most workplaces. Recent McKinsey studies have most CEOs saying they want their leaders in the office at least three days a week. That’s just about time. It should start with a question: Who does it matter to if you’re here or not? That question relates to the home front and the work front.

For an intern, it’s their foundational work experience so it matters to them if you’re there.

Equally, if you promised one of your kids you’d be at their sports carnival then that matters too.

Right now, most companies we work with are asking “What does hybrid working mean for our business?” They’re grappling with how to make the hybrid work model work for their team.
But amidst the tug-of-war, the negotiation, the compromise, and the redesign… is it possible that we have all completely missed the point; and that we’re asking the wrong question?

What if the choice wasn’t ‘working from the office’ or ‘working from home’. Rather, I’d like to believe the choice is one of leadership and how you evolve with the times to transform the way you lead into the future.

It’s time to ask better questions; to shift the conversation from ‘location’ to ‘leadership’.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

There is lots to be optimistic about. Two areas will stand out for successful, purpose-led businesses in the future of work: conviction is one, and clarity is the second.

Leading well is, at its core, about making good choices. It’s about thinking independently, rather than deferring to authority. It’s about adding value beyond the path the business is on. Creating a conviction that offers true clarity for all who are contributing to the cause.

Deep strategic clarity was fundamentally important when I was a young psychologist, working for the right to contribute to strategic business conversations. When establishing Maximus, I knew we would have to be able to think and have perspective well beyond the norm to be the kind of progressive, credible firm we aspired to be. We spent years tackling every complex problem we could get our hands on and understanding every business model and theory known.

It wasn’t until later in our evolution as leaders ourselves, that the role of conviction became clear. Simply knowing what to think about was far from enough. Over the years we saw many different manifestations of strategic thinking in practice. Top executives who demonstrated incredible thinking but made poor choices and compromises. Leaders who ran the business like it was a rolling forecast and the strategy was simply an evolution of how the numbers would unfold over a duration of time. Leaders who strategically gave the business a direction yet were completely oblivious of their role in creating a culture that would engender followership.

Today’s executives need to create high-level clarity, and it takes work. You have to understand all your choices and be able to bring data and insight to your decisions. You must ensure you have both a sense of purpose and an eye on the future as you do this.

I get the complexities and live with them too; this is no small thing: to bring conviction and clarity in tune requires the head and heart of you and your people.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

People want an emotional connection to their work and their workplaces now more than ever — and it is generational. Millennials and Gen Z want to work for companies that align to their values first and foremost. They want flexible work but many of us also want to connect and collaborate.

Burnout has been a huge factor for all generations with 84% of Gen Zs report burnout along with 74% of Millennials and 47% of Baby Boomers, according to a 2022 Asana study. And based on McKinsey research, 25% of Gen Zs, 13% of Millennials, 13% of Gen Xs and 8% of Baby Boomers reported feeling emotionally distressed with low levels of wellbeing.

Preliminary insights from our proprietary leadership assessment tool, Max., shows that people who feel they are doing work aligned with their life purpose, feel emotional commitment and pride in the quality of work they are doing, and believe they are able to deliver work or achieve their goals on time report a stronger sense of wellbeing and life satisfaction.

So, while organisations might innovate with different work arrangements, our view at Maximus is that leaders and organisations need to focus on getting the basics right. People want meaningful work, to be stretched to achieve challenges they can be proud of in addition to having access to the tools to deliver their work. This has and continues to be a priority for how we view work with teams and their desire for wellbeing.

That said, at Maximus, after the 2020–2021 lockdowns, our people wanted to return to the office more days than wanted to be working from home. We know that social connection is important for wellbeing. That includes social banter about our weekends or families, as well as meaningful and incidental conversations, making set times to come together for lunches or offsite experiences as a team which can’t be achieved through a Zoom meeting or emails.

We talk to leaders about intellectual and emotional understanding and the importance of creating the right narrative to bring a vision to life. In the past, there’s been a tendency among some leaders to think it’s fine to come up with a clever strategy and then bring in the creatives to sell the vision.

In my experience, this is a little limited. Intelligent workforces don’t want all the thinking to be done for them. They want to experience the process and understand the subtleties and need to be involved to bring their own conviction to life. Working with their own leaders will bring clarity which is inspiring, and it also creates real momentum.

Strategy and culture must be equal and integrated. The best strategic leaders shape the path of the two together without compromise, backed by the conviction and clever choices that only come from having done the deeper work.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

We need to move away from the old-fashioned validations of success. It is about growing your impact, with a focus on a bigger purpose beyond yourself, backed by the capabilities to match.

There’s never been a more challenging time to lead. You stack up post-COVID recovery, people’s mindset and fatigue then add the challenges of economic pressures. Leaders need to level up now. Being visible means that leaders can signpost; they can create perspective in terms of the stress people are feeling and bring that into context. It’s incredibly important that leaders are highly visible, but they can role-model flexibility, too. Leave at 4pm to go to your fitness session or take your ageing parent to a medical appointment.

Companies across the globe are currently grappling with how to make the hybrid work model work for their team. The question everyone is asking: “What should a working week look like?” From working two days from home and three in the office; to going entirely remote; or forcing everyone back to their desk full-time — it’s a jostle between what will benefit the bottom line and still make everyone happy.

But amidst the tug-of-war, the negotiation, the compromise and the redesign. Is it is possible that we have all completely missed the point; and that we’re asking the wrong question? What if the choice wasn’t ‘working from the office’ or ‘working from home’. After all, these two choices represent a very narrow view of society and the workforce composition. Rather, I’d like to believe the choice is one of leadership and how you evolve with the times to transform the way you lead into the future.

Leadership isn’t about location — it’s about evolution; it’s about the creation of value. It’s what will turn our attention away from an obsession with flexible workspaces to focus more on why we would work from these places in the first place and how to lead towards a greater sense of communal success. It’s what will see us move away from the obsession with how ‘inputs’ are made, in favour of ‘strategic value and outputs’ — which is how to shape a truly high-impact and sustainable future.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”


When making choices about your time and where you spend it, it’s time to move away from just considering “Where do I want to work from?” and lean in towards a more strategic starting point. The choice to lead more progressively and to be more granular about intent will set you up for a future of abundance, while the alternative will limit growth. When looked at like this, hybrid working has very little to do with location. What it actually is, finding courage to make bold decisions and setting your business up for disproportionate growth.

As a leader, you can reposition your start position by thinking about how you want your team to experience you both personally and professionally. Be in a position of service rather than using self-preservation to steer through the choices at hand.

Ask yourself these questions.

  • Do you start from a position of stakeholder outcomes, considering where you could have the greatest impact?
  • Do you consider the expectations of your role to lead growth, collaboration, performance and emotional commitment for the business and your life more broadly?


Over my 20 years of working with leaders from diverse backgrounds, I have observed that it’s essential for leaders to understand the power of leading with a clear intention. Leaders need to consider how they cultivate leading growth, collaboration, commitment and performance through how they work; what they prioritise and of course where that all gets done. Being available and accessible — physically and digitally — builds trust, which in turn will boost performance.

Getting your team through challenging times starts with finding and embodying your own unique purpose, then connecting how that feeds into the organisational purpose as a whole. When your personal bottom line is healthy and you know who you are and what you bring to your work, life and leadership (your ‘why’), work then becomes less about ticking off tasks. You’ll start to create a sense of shared purpose that is easy for others to buy into, and productivity will naturally lift.

It matters how a leader shows up — the humanity they bring, the reciprocity they cultivate, the moments they create and the clarity with which they can answer: ‘Why does it matter whether I’m here?’ Presence in the workplace goes beyond the physical — it’s about intentionality and connection.

When it comes to hybrid working, we need to ask better questions; to shift the conversation from the location to leadership. Organisations that can do this successfully will reap the rewards in years to come as they set themselves up to outpace competitors.


Leaders understand that it’s easy for work to become an ‘egocentric system’ where it’s ‘all about me’. Evidence of egocentric systems will show up as top-down control, independent silos, territorial power struggles, self-interest, withholding information and blame.

The modernity of leadership involves shifting this to an ‘ecosystem’ where it’s about ‘us’ and the changes we can ignite for our clients. This looks like an environment that catalyses influence, conversations, alignment, partnerships, mutual empowerment, mutual support, joint knowledge and mutual accountability. The latter has a knock-on effect to its clients and clients by integrating work across a value chain: people connecting multiple tasks, responsibilities, projects and processes that deliver solutions to the marketplace. It’s not just about one individual doing their job successfully, but the network of people doing what they do well and are passionate about. Collaboration always wins, whether that be in a team meeting or a social impact project we may do offsite.


Most people want to have more opportunities to grow and develop faster than ever. There’s a lot more leaving and returning happening so it’s important how you create those moments that matter — how someone starts, how you send them off, the reciprocity of the relationship and how it’s set from early on. Having some structure to a career path — providing viable options — is really important. These days, careers aren’t linear but certainly context and perspective around where the opportunities are important. People are impatient for growth.


Many boards and management teams still ask a lot of questions about productivity. The challenge is this focus on time, which is a very transactional relationship. The focus needs to be on purpose, discretionary effort, and outcomes — you’ll get more from that equation than if you’re purely focusing on time. When I hear those kinds of questions, my counsel is: “You’re not focusing on the right things.” We need an aligned purpose and culture in companies. That may be around improving sustainability activities or adhering to ethical practices in our daily operations.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“Feel the fear and do it anyway”.

This has been my motto since I started my career. Having the courage to channel my fears during those critical crossroads or where bold new opportunities have come to light, has been the driving factor behind my success. Feel the fear and push through, as this will stretch your growth pathway and propel you closer to your goals and ambition.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

I am fascinated by creative thinkers and how they unleash their minds to think with bold ambition. As such, I’d be delighted to spend time with legends like Hollywood producer George Lucas, or the writers who collaborate with Baz Luhrmann.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Website: https://maximus.com.au/

LinkedIn: Maximus International

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.