Reflections: 25 Years of Leadership Victoria

20 March 2015

Sue Dahn, WCLP 1994

Three hundred of us participants, in that first decade of the WCLP, the seeds of which were planted by the inspired vision of Mr Hugh Williamson, were called to plant trees under whose shade we did not expect to sit.

For many of us the program was a life changing event. 

It taught us one of the deep secrets of life -  that all that is really worth doing, is what we do for others.

Because  knowing is not enough - we must apply,  willing is not enough - we must do, doing is that which  brings the power and the magic.

So in that first decade, 300 Williamson Alumni went forth and planted trees.

We said yes when presented with an opportunity to make a contribution – to others and to each other.

We said yes when there was nothing in it for us,  when it was unexpected, unsought for and even uncomfortable.

Trees were planted in every sector of the community and public life many of which survive strongly today.

Which of the now over 1000 alumni of LV will ultimately plant the tree as great as Hugh Williamson ?

For we cannot be blind to the many forces that are self-serving and destructive - our need for strong inspiring community leadership has never been greater.

20 years after my own program year I remain both humbly grateful for the opportunity it gave me and proudly committed to keep planting.

On behalf of the first decade of Willies, I warmly congratulate LV on its first 25 years and wish it many, many more years of inspiring community leaders to come. 

Ross McPherson, WCLP 1995

In the 90s, you’ll recall, we were Jeffed.

For Melbourne, largely good; for the regions, it was tough.

Drastic downsizing, first public then private.

Culled our transient leaders from the SEC and the Gas and Fuel, the bank and finance managers who infused our councils, schools and hospital boards with their outside expertise – Gone.

We had to train our own: Fairley Leadership’s 500 Fellows since '97 have helped to fill the gap.

Williamson gave us the model – and support - to do that.

Then a purge of public housing provoked a massive migration of the welfare dependant to the bush, where housing is cheap but buses are scarce and services scanty, inflicting novel and wicked problems that still defy easy answers.

Williamson gave us the networks, with agencies and philanthropics, to start tackling them.

Then the millennium drought – not Jeff’s fault! But for the country a crisis… with opportunity…

We offered water to a thirsty Melbourne securing two billion dollars to refit our irrigation system – it was bruising and difficult, but worth it.

Williamson gave us the contacts, the confidence and courage to do that.

Like four hundred stories here, it began with Hugh Williamson’s thought bubble, seeding a chain reaction of good things, big and small, that might never have otherwise happened.

Richard Bluck used to call them “The ripples.”

Some thought bubble - some ripples.

Lachlan Bruce, WCLP 2003

Two visits from my Williamson year that I reflect upon often are:

  • The visit to the Melbourne custody centre, below the Melbourne magistrates court; and
  • The day spent at the VISY Cares centre in Dandenong. 

In my work the phrase “people like us” comes back to me. People like us have choices, make choices and participate in decision making. There are a large number of people “not like us” who don’t enjoy that responsibility or privilege. People whose choices are limited by poor decisions of the past, limited educational opportunities or socio economic disadvantage. It is these people I feel the greatest responsibility for in my work as a public servant.


Sarah Davies, WCLP 2004

For 25 years, we’ve been talking about issues, ideas and how to have clout
to change ourselves and our environment; to build community with good sentiment.

And what did I learn as I traversed my year of Gold Stars and argument, friendship and beer?
In 90 seconds, they have asked me to say, what this experience means today.

I was inspired by those who seemed more than human for what they’ve achieved; their roles, how they do them.
But under the intimate Chatham House Rule, these giants transformed into normal people too.

I took comfort from their reflections on challenge and failure, where grit and resilience turned into their saviour.
We talked and debated without fear or favour, united in our desire to understand greater.

Scar tissue, stories, good, bad and ugly – generously shared to help with our muddling.

One moment for me did stand out from the rest, when Anne Turley gave us her personal best.
She talked of her north star, a compass for leading, her vision, her values, her purpose, her being.

This symbol for me struck a cord very deep and gave me my north star as a guide to keep.
And ten years later, what have I done, with these gifts and insights, and have I had fun?

I draw on my experience every day, to help me and my partners find a way
To create the world we want to live in with justice, equality and inclusive vision.

I have friendships and networks to help and sustain me, with advice, wine and laughter when challenges slay me.

Now birthday wishes to Leadership Victoria, and to all those who work hard to support her.
We hope that for many years to come, your programs will continue to grown and run.

So thank you for listening to my personal sojourn, as we dine in this beautiful glass-roofed grand ball-room.

We acknowledge our luck and the privilege we’re given, to show up each day with vigour and vision
To envisage and build the community we need that enables all members to thrive and succeed.

Linda Mellors, WCLP 2012

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is an honour to contribute to this representation of the impact of the Williamson Program over 25 years.

A program that is a great privilege and indulgence - supported by so many others including our families and workplaces. It has been a very welcome surprise to find that the impact of my Williamson year has only strengthened with time.

I find myself reflecting often on the experiences, conversations and emotions from the year and since. My greatest learnings during my Williamson year turned out not to be my greatest learnings from my Williamson experience. I think sometimes the ideas need to sit and be explored over time for them to make sense.

One thing that seems certain with a group of motivated high-achievers and successful leaders is a good dose of perfectionism and anxiety. The personal challenges, triumphs and displays of vulnerability, bravery and resilience have had an enormous impact on me. 

I am now much more interested in understanding vulnerability, self-acceptance and the ingredients needed for longevity of leadership in addition to what makes a good leader. The impact of these discussions with new and experienced leaders alike cannot be underestimated.

The Williamson experience has benefited me in ways that I did not anticipate.

I would like to thank my Williamson peers who knowingly and unknowingly taught me so much through their own experiences and reflections on mine. Given that I’m only two years out of my Williamson year, who knows what future Williamson-inspired gems will appear.

Richard Hansen, WCLP2013

In an effort to be inclusive and represent a diverse range of views, I asked my peers from 2013 for lightbulb moments I might use tonight, and perhaps the most insightful I got back was this one:

"The importance of managing through others - in this case, getting someone else to stand up and speak on our behalf".

Now, I found this insight particularly surprising given at the opening retreat  of our year, despite my normal business experience of being the loudest voice in the room, I struggled to get a word in edgeways. There were certainly no shortage of people wanting to speak then.  

Towards the end of my year I was asked to address our group executive and talk about the benefits of the program. I had recently been appointed to run our New Zealand business, so this group were about to become peers.

Williamson gave me either the courage, or the stupidity, to try to explain that the year had not only woken up a lot of voices in my head, but showed me the value of listening to them, understanding them, and doing something about it. And I'm sure in hindsight they all thought I was crazy. But if you haven't taken the time to stop, enjoy some silence, and listen to your own voices, I would encourage you to explore that creative and diverse part of your own brain sometime soon. I would caution you on sharing that approach with your own executive teams though.

Our year, like most others, was full of an incredibly diverse range of people. Most of whom were more than happy to share, and increasingly debate their views as the year wore on. And so for me, and many others, I think the great benefit of the Williamson program was understanding the real value of surrounding yourself with diversity in all its forms - to challenge your traditional view, and ultimately to help make better decisions in every way.

Finally, Williamson reminded me that community leadership in all its forms demands from all of us, no matter what role we play in society, that if we can do something to help improve the lives of others, we must.