Amanda Sinclair on Leadership

17 August 2017 By Will Brodie

Image credit: UniMelb. Amanda Sinclair
Image credit: UniMelb. Amanda Sinclair

As a leadership expert, Amanda Sinclair is a triple threat. A respected academic, she is also an author and a teacher. 

When writing for academic publication, she aims to be “interesting, relevant and engaging” to leaders.

To reach general readers, she has written many books, including her latest, Women Leading, with former Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon.

When teaching, she aims to engage her students, not to lecture at them.  

So which of the three disciplines has the greatest impact?

Sinclair says teaching is her most influential and satisfying work. 

She avoids the “banking” model of teaching, where information is “deposited” to passive spectators. Instead, she engages with leaders to unlock their personal knowledge using interactive exercises. 

For example, she asks participants to recall leadership figures from their childhoods, good and bad. The answers can be poignant.

“They’re often anchored in visceral experiences, anchored in emotions and anchored in memories. That’s part of what makes it more impactful and lasting. People will often go home and talk to family or partners, realising how things from way back still play out.”

The simple exercise enables participants to identify fundamental habits of their personality. Many will never have connected seminal personal events to their current leadership style.

She says it can be a very satisfying process, with “tangible, embodied” outcomes.

While Sinclair could suggest what her class might encounter, “it’s nothing like as powerful if they find it themselves…”

“These new ideas become embedded in their own experiences, they become part of their narratives, it makes it much more meaningful.”

Sinclair admits striving to create such an “active environment” is often controversial.

“People expect to be given information by the teacher. They expect to be told things. You’re taking them out of their comfort zones."

In each field, Sinclair is determined to reach her audience.

“I always had an appetite for risk-taking, for pushing the boundaries. I was interested in finding learning experiences which were more rich and lasting. My approach has evolved – I’ve learned together with my students. 

“There’s a real excitement at the start of a new program. You’re wondering ‘how’s this group going to find new things together’.”

The longer the course, the better with such work. Sinclair prefers 10-week courses to one or two hour versions.

In the latter, she’s “sowing seeds, encouraging them to trust their hunches and go further”.

“You’re trying to help people have life experiences which help them pay attention and go deeper.”

Sinclair’s writing for general audiences came about because she was frustrated by the narrow parameters of academic publishing.

She thrives, like many leaders, on finding insights from other realms. Whilst researching the role of the body in leadership, she turned to film and cultural theorists.

“Leadership is quite a physical thing,” she says. “But that hasn’t been written about very much. I had to look at other areas, come at it from a different angle, and look elsewhere for scholars who had dealt with it…”

Sinclair is also excited by the unique lessons we can learn from indigenous leadership and women, underrepresented in leadership literature.

In her writing, like her teaching, Amanda wants real connections.

“If leaders aren’t reading what I write… I should pack up and go home. I write to have an influence and be of use to people.”