Thriving in Leadership – James Harvey’s 5 Pillars for Sustained Success

AIB Events, Leadership, Organisations & Culture
Thriving in Leadership – James Harvey’s 5 Pillars for Sustained Success


Success isn’t defined purely by hard work or by simply getting lucky. In general, whilst those that we deem successful may have had these parts at play, no doubt their success emerged from discernible consistency, continuous learning and making educated decisions. On the 27th of July, James Harvey, Head of Strategic Alliances at Energy Locals, presented his 5 pillars for sustained success and how his MBA journey at AIB helped him further develop his approach to leadership.

About James:

James has recently joined one of Australia’s most innovative utility companies and reigning Green Retailer of the Year (2020, 2021 & 2023) – Energy Locals. Overseeing the identification, evaluation, negotiation, and management of strategic partnerships, James uses his property expertise from his time at Mirvac to unlock greater value across the build-to-rent sector & residential community energy networks. In addition to his 17 years as a professional basketballer, including 2 NBL Championships and captaining the Australian Boomers, James is also a seasoned NED & Advisor in PropTech, CleanTech, FinTech & Sport.

James started the night with an honest, frank opening, that no one has all the answers. We have different careers and backgrounds and as we go through each experience, we take away learnings and develop our very own toolkit of skills, that make us the leaders we are. The following 5 pieces of advice for sustained success as a leader, serve as an opportunity to add to your toolkit.

“I’m hoping that one of these five tools, if not all five, you can stick in your toolkit, and one day you might pull them out and help you in a situation where you need to show resilience or be adaptable.”

  1. Lone Wolf Mentality

James started by introducing us to the Lone Wolf Mentality. Not to be confused with the idea that we need to do everything on our own, but rather, to achieve success, the motivation must be our own and come from within.

‘It’s about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. The Lone Wolf Mentality really focuses on developing your own growth mindset. As individuals, it’s pivotal to believe more in your own abilities. And it’s a skill that can be learned.’

At this point, James explains the Lone Wolf Mentality and how resilience and intrinsic motivation come to play:

‘I was an only child. My dad and my uncle both played AFL at the highest level. But to get better at that sport, I always needed someone to kick the footy with. On the other hand, when it came to basketball, I just needed a ball, a hoop and some music in my ears. I didn’t require an older brother or sister or anyone for that matter to push me to get better. I was fortunate enough to do that and develop that on my own. It quickly became my competitive advantage:  a ‘me against the world’ mentality.

Someone once said to me, what separates the good from the great is the work that is done when no one’s watching. I experienced many players over the years while the coaches were nearby, they were putting up an extra 100 shots. The moment that coach walked out the door, they stopped. But then you find out about the kid who had the keys to his local high school, but he never told anyone about it. He would go down there at seven o’clock at night. He didn’t come to training the next day and tell everyone. He was the one that was getting better on his own, driven by the  lone wolf mentality and the ability to push himself without the need for extrinsic motivation.

And whilst we all would love more money, sustained success comes from that ability to drive yourself for yourself. And in the Leadership subject of the MBA, for those of you who have done it, is the discussion around grit that aligns most with this pillar i.e. the power of passion and perseverance coming together.

WATCH: Angela Duckworth’s TED talk on grit

  1. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

For the second point, James moved on to the different elements that need to come together to make success happen:

‘Success comes when preparation meets opportunity. But you also must have unwavering self-belief.’

Using an anecdote from his basketball days, James explained:

‘As a shooter in basketball, I had to be able to let go of the past and focus on the present regardless if I had missed the previous 10 shots. I had to always believe the next one was going in, which is effectively self-efficacy, and a commonly discussed trait in the MBA.

One of my favourite quotes that was ever told to me is that “pressure is a privilege.” For example, of course, I felt pressure coming here tonight; you’ve all got fantastic careers and no doubt your own success stories. But on the flip side, these are the moments that I hoped would present to me. I’ve worked hard to be able to stand up here and talk to you tonight. Why is it that we feel the most amount of pressure right at the final moment?  Why is it that highly skilled people freak out at the moment they pitch in front of their executive teams for a $100 million on a development that they’ve been working for two years to build?

It is because you care, but, importantly you can rewire your brain when you start to feel pressure to say, ‘Hey, some things could go wrong, but this is actually a moment where things could go right.” Remember you’ve been working towards this exact moment. You are where you’re meant to be. Now just go out and execute.

You do need to be prepared to be able to execute but also be willing to take educated risks; that’s a given. You can’t live it safe and expect to be great – you’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’

READ: Anti-fragile – Things that Gain from Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

  1. It is better to have people’s respect than their sympathy  

James spoke to the sense of pride that comes from not only proving those that doubt us wrong and defying the odds, but also not allowing yourself to wallow in self-pity. James shared that as a parent of two children with autism, that is one thing he has never wanted from others:

‘I don’t want people’s sympathy; I want to earn your respect in the way we’re able to handle the cards we’ve been dealt and thrive.’

He then spoke about a time, before he had the chance to play for Australia. Before they selected the team for the World Championships, they needed to cut two players. It was the night that would determine his fate. If he didn’t receive a call, he could assume he had made the team, and when the phone did not ring, he was jumping over the moon that he made his first Australian team.

But when he made it to training the next day, everyone was still there, everybody seemed happy and he knew something was not right. The coaches announced they had a change of heart and would speak to everyone individually. Sadly, he was cut from the team. As a young man, he took off bitter and twisted, determined he was done with basketball. When he got back home to Perth later that week, there was a letter waiting for him from his father that would change the course of his career and possibly life. It read:

‘James, we love you. We’re proud of you and everything you’ve achieved, but in this moment, you’ve only got two options. The first is to lay down a prove to them that they were right. Or get back up and prove them wrong.” The final words of that letter still resonate with me today and it’s my third pillar of success….it’s always better to have people’s respect than their sympathy.’

READ: Option B – Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy

  1. Always resort to plan A

James started by explaining that we are all happiest when we are doing something we are good at. And it’s not that we shouldn’t have plan Bs or Cs but often in times, we resort to these too quickly.

‘When you’re in doubt, you need to go back to what you do best. When in doubt, go back to plan A. In my experience, it’s about focusing on one’s strengths and then building a supportive network that can lead to greater success and satisfaction by hiding individual weaknesses.

And to take that a step further you should consider how you best build your A team. There’s no point in building a team, of multiple but similar skill sets that cross over one another. You want the diversity of the team to hide your weaknesses but importantly embrace and leverage your strengths.’

James gave an example from his time as a basketballer.  At a point in his career, he hadn’t been to an Olympics but the Boomers had a new coach, Brett Brown from the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA. This coach recognised that what James did best was score and then focused on hiding his weakness, which was defence. He ensured that there were other players that excelled in defence and built the team so that no one player’s weaknesses were exposed or could be targeted.

‘So after being cut from two consecutive Olympics, in 2004 and 2008, there wasn’t a game the Boomers played between 2009-2011 that I didn’t captain and helped lead the country to our first and only Stankovic Cup title.

I went from barely making the team to captaining the side based simply on the fact somebody allowed me to resort to my plan A.’

  1. Focus on the process, not the result.

When you’re completing any challenge, like an MBA, James acknowledged it’s hard not to look ahead and see how far away the finish line is.

‘It’s easy to think at 3 subjects in, wow, I’ve got a long way to go, or I didn’t get the grade I wanted how will I make the Dean’s merit list now? To me, that is not embracing the journey nor the important part.

As a successful leader, you should be establishing personal trademarks and non-negotiables that are applicable and evident under any circumstance and a set of values that you never compromise. For me, I watched all my webinars recorded and blocked my time over the weekend rather than do any study in the week. It may not have been the best way, but it was what suited me, and allowed me to enjoy the process and achieve a GPA of 6.2 i.e. I did what I needed to do to make it work. And I focused on building good habits and leaning into the process throughout my MBA journey.’

James then put this in the perspective of the workplace and how establishing clear processes, roles, and responsibilities is crucial for creating a high-performance culture:

‘When it comes to building teams, clarity of roles and responsibilities is critical.  It’s the ability to have open communication and set your people up for success by putting them in positions that speak to their strengths.’

James then encouraged the audience to consider, if we all had to trade-mark our own characteristics and consider 3-5 non-negotiables that you’ll always be known for across your professional and personal life, what would they be?

To give the audience an example, James shared this team’s non-negotiables for when he played for the Sydney Kings. Despite their wooden spoon the year before he arrived, they made the semi-finals despite being last on the line of betting by simply focusing on 3 non-negotiables that they took pride in and would never let slip:

‘1. Desire – doing everything above championship level. 2. Toughness – always sticking to our process. 3. Smarts – Understanding and Executing your responsibilities.

As a leader of people or even for yourself, ensure that you understand and are able to execute on your responsibilities, particularly in areas of strengths, and always recognise that first and foremost you represent yourself…. Your personal brand is always on display and should simply mirror your values and core beliefs. i.e. your trademarks not just the end result.’

READ: “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande

*The Australian Institute of Business (AIB) is Australia’s largest provider of MBAs. Source Ready, B. (2023) Domestic Enrolments Surged During COVID After International Students Locked Out, MBA News. Available at: MBA News.

Post a comment