Ian Telfer: Skills That Have Helped My Mining Career

Being an effective leader can be challenging. I think that’s especially the case when you are working in the mining sector. Leadership requires a balance of vision and steadfastness, as well as the ability to be versatile and open-minded, virtues that are often in conflict with each other.

And speaking from my own experience, challenges to good leadership can often be magnified when you have multiple projects or are working with more than one company.

Even though there is no definitive set of rules for becoming an accomplished, successful leader, more than three decades of experience in the mining industry has taught me that there are a few universal skills that most successful business people share.

Chief among them is an unwavering curiosity in their industry -- and, don’t forget, a curiosity in the world we live in too.

In addition to a bubbling sense of curiosity, there are a handful of other skills that business leaders can focus on to be even more effective, no matter what industry they are in.

1. Know Your Industry

This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised by the amount of people who ascend to the corner office and begin to rest on their laurels. Knowing your industry inside and out requires constant learning. Moreover, it requires a willingness and flexibility to change with industry trends and to accept and incorporate new ways of thinking and doing things. Following international news, subscribing to industry publications and speaking with fellow colleagues - these are all ways to promote continual learning.

Even more important: make a point of befriending your colleagues of a younger generation or those who have just graduated and are in the middle of their first real career job. Not only does this provide an excellent opportunity for a mentoring relationship, it also provides an access point to learn new concepts being taught today in higher education.

2. Build a Competent Team

Effective leaders know when to delegate. That’s of course easier when you have a competent team you can trust. Naturally, you want to look for skilled professionals who are motivated to get the job done. But, beyond that, there are specific skills you should look for to compliment what you bring to the table.

When I was establishing some of my first mining companies during the early part of my career, the teams I built played an enormous role in the success of those companies. I also learned during those early years that being a leader meant giving people the room and support to learn and grow.

3. Foster Relationships

I alluded to this point earlier.

With more industry cross-collaboration taking place today than ever before, it’s crucial for leaders to network both within and outside of their industry.

Networking is especially important for young executives who are looking to build their contact list. Senior mining executives can also benefit from fostering strong networks with young, aspiring executives and miners. These fresh faced newcomers often come with new strategies and new ways of thinking, which can bring fresh perspectives to projects.

Conferences, trade shows and forums are fantastic opportunities to broaden one’s network and connect with colleagues. Case in point, later in November, I will be attending the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne, Australia. The four-day conference brings together many executives who work in different aspects of the resource sector and will be an excellent, not to mention enjoyable, networking opportunity.

Developing an effective leadership strategy takes years of experience that is often learned from setbacks rather than successes. Every leader will embody a different set of skills. However, truly effective leaders understand what it takes to nurture the best out of their employees. They also understand that it takes an entire team to lead a business to success.