Leading from the front: Q&A with inspirational leader and COBA chair Elizabeth Crouch AM

Published on December 7, 2023

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Few people have had careers that are as remarkable, varied, and illustrious as COBA Chair Elizabeth Crouch. Crouch recently shared her valuable insights on careers, leadership, and women in business. Find out how this inspirational leader with decades of industry experience navigates challenges in her career, and her top tips for success.

Q: Can you share an important lesson you have learnt in your career?

A: Of all the lessons I have learnt in my career, one of the most important is to always exercise good judgment. In fact, I recruit people based on their decision-making capabilities and whether they can clearly demonstrate this skill set day-to-day. Most people can learn technical skills, but many can’t exercise good judgment.

When I work with people who demonstrate this quality, it doesn’t matter what situation you put them in, you have confidence they’re going to produce the outcome you need. In my view, good judgment trumps many of the technical skills that people bring to a job.

Q: How do you navigate challenges in your day-to-day work?

A: I see challenges as opportunities. Each challenge presents you with an opportunity to test how you’re going to respond. Will this challenge be an obstacle for you, or an opportunity to learn and grow?

I’ve faced challenges such as being asked to join the board of organisations battling to deal with toxic cultures and leadership issues. In situations like this, I aim to bring the skills I’ve learnt to reframe obstacles as possibilities for change.

The former chairman of the Australian Stock Exchange once wisely advised me that it was always better to go into something that needed fixing because you can measure progress and celebrate impact. It’s fulfilling to realise that you’ve actively shifted the dial.

It’s always important to surround yourself with good and talented people when dealing with challenges. Be sure to identify and develop smart, courageous people with complementary skills who will follow through on the change process with you.

Q: How important is communication in navigating change?

A: Communication is key. When dealing with challenges and obstacles, you get a greater degree of uncertainty if people are on the same page. Some people spread misinformation mostly out of fear and misconception rather than wanting to be particularly difficult or problematic.

Being able to take people on a journey and have them own and communicate the change that’s needed is so important. Effective change is all about communicating in whatever form it takes to get your message across, and to listen to others in return.

Q: What is your top tip for women starting out in their career?

A: Many young professionals overlook or hesitate in exploring new opportunities when they’re presented. This is especially true for women.

In my mentoring and coaching work, I see numerous women with great CVs who struggle to back themselves and capture new opportunities. Women may feel that they aren’t ready to elevate their career or that they lack the required skills or experience for a role.

So, a top tip to all women starting out in their career – as well as those with an established career – is to capture new opportunities as they arise. Change may feel uncomfortable at times but have the confidence to take that next step for yourself. You’ll be pleasantly surprised about how transferable your skills are.

If you are a leader: encourage someone in your team to take that next step for themselves. Occasionally we need to give women a little prompt to say: now’s the time. Have a go. You’re ready.

Q: What advice would you give to women about further elevating their career?

A: I would emphasise the importance of work-life balance and investing in yourself. Invest in your brain and pursue learning and development opportunities. I try to learn something new every day. It might only be a simple thing, but being able to expand your knowledge and refresh your mindset keeps you mentally acute in your work and life.

I also encourage you to get close to your customers. In every industry – especially the finance industry – there is real value in truly understanding your customers.

While the Big 4 banks tend to be disconnected and somewhat removed from their customer, customer-owned banks have a unique bond with their members. Maintaining that unwavering connection with communities requires customer owned banks to be out there in the regions, creating opportunities for future leaders – particularly women – to learn how to serve their customers. Getting close to your customers will teach you a lot about your unique leadership style.

Q: Any other tips for aspiring leaders?


  1. Work out where you can add value, but in the right place at the right time.
  2. Identify the areas you may need to improve and access help and resources if needed.
  3. Be honest with yourself. For example, use sound judgement when deciding to assume a greater level of responsibility, rather than letting your ego take charge.
  4. Grow your networks. Work with mentors and leaders whose approach and style you value, because you can learn a lot from them, and vice versa.


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Elizabeth Crouch
Chair, Customer Owned Banking Association (COBA)
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