Leading for Impact

By Lyndon Galea, 2019 Williamson Leadership Program Alumnus

This year I have been incredibly fortunate to be a part of the Williamson Leadership Program. I say ‘fortunate’ because I have been unsuccessful on two previous occasions applying for the program. And I was only able to cover the program fee thanks to Westpac’s Social Change Fellowship.

For these reasons amongst others, I knew not to take the privilege of being in the 2019 cohort for granted.

The year has been one filled with exceptional peers, presenters and perspectives. The course content and the conversations that have stemmed from it have made for an expansive development experience. One that I’m certain will reverberate in the years to come for all of us who have taken part.

‘Leading with Purpose’ has been a consistent theme throughout. I’ve been asked to share on this topic, and why and how I lead.

Until Williamson commenced, I’d not considered these questions deeply, but I knew if I could learn to become a stronger leader I could better influence the positive outcomes and causes I’m passionate about – in my case, Eat Up, and our aspiration to provide free lunches to disadvantaged Australian school children who would otherwise go without.

With a cause such as feeding hungry kids, it is very easy to find and steadily refer to purpose. It is an issue that stirs me just as it does others to want to help. Leading Eat Up has not so much been me inspiring or instilling this purpose in others, but helping to provide an outlet where we can work together to collectively contribute – in our case making and delivering as many sandwiches as possible. It is a very powerful why!

How? How do I lead – well, this is a work in progress and one that I’m very much learning on the job. But for the most part it involves getting out of the way. Again, I’m lucky to lead an organisation where the outcomes drive people’s effort and involvement. Volunteers, supporters, and our staff are all immensely passionate about seeing that kids don’t miss out on food. They’re even more passionate about seeing that kids don’t go without in their local community. This is how we’ve grown. They love their hometowns just as I do Shepparton – my home, and where Eat Up started after I read an article in our local newspaper about kids who were often sent to school without lunch and would go hungry.

Leading Eat Up’s growth has been primarily putting in place the infrastructure in between people’s goodwill to lend a hand, and those who could use a hand. Eat Up, and I think my role, is acting as a conduit between these two demands. I’m constantly inspired and motivated by that connection and the outcomes that come with it.

Leadership doesn’t have to be complex, it can be, but it needn’t be. Keeping things simple is a strength. That lesson has been made clear throughout WCLP this year, and I hope it will also show in Eat Up’s albeit bittersweet growth to reach and feed more hungry kids in the future. Our goal is to help kids nationally. Williamson has helped that goal come closer into view.

Lyndon Galea

Why We Choose to Lead

By Michelle Crawford, 2019 Williamson Leadership Program Alumnus

To lead is a verb, it’s something you do.  It’s about the provision of guidance and direction, and is an intentional act.

As a noun, purpose relates to the reason for which something is done.

Inequality and injustice are an ongoing challenge for Australia and beyond. Against this backdrop, 2019 Williamson Leadership Program participants have been challenged to reflect on the act of leading.  We have been provided with privileged access to a diverse range of guests and experiences that have provided opportunities for growth, often through discomfort.

Leaders are in significant positions of power.  How we act, practice self-care, the decisions we make, the direction we provide and our purpose impacts others.

Williamson brings together leaders from diverse backgrounds and it has been clear throughout the year that there is one strong cord that binds us.  We all share a keen desire to master our craft as leaders so as to positively impact the complex world that is constantly changing.

While we seek to build on our experience, gifts, talents and innate ability to lead, we have accepted the challenge to constantly review the lens through which we look at things, and to seek out unusual voices as we lead.

A key ingredient to leading with purpose is understanding the WHY of why we choose to lead.

Exploring our own leadership through harthill.co.uk provided invaluable insight into the individual action logics which shape our actions and growth as leaders.  Exploring our immunity to change, applying adaptive leadership principles to complex challenges, along with the rich and diverse experiences throughout the year have contributed to a deeper exploration of purpose.

Throughout the year I have had cause to reflect on the leaders I have worked with and observed, along with the leader that I aspire to be.  The overwhelming insight has been – authentic.

Purpose cannot be contrived. I believe it is essential to find your passion – your raison d’être.    Throughout the year I have found that the feedback I have sought from trusted peers, colleagues and friends as contributions for the various exercises we have undertaken has been incredibly affirming, highlighting my passionate approach to leadership, while challenging me to step into the authority of leading – to own the privilege and continue on a path of purposefulness as a leader who is emotionally, intellectually and culturally relevant.

The Chinese character for LISTEN is a key marker of my desire to lead with purpose.

 

To seize a sense of determination as a leader takes us beyond an act and moves into measurable impact.

I’m intensely grateful for the Williamson 2019 year, and resolve to listen with my ear, eyes, heart and undivided attention as I lead with purpose.

Michelle pictured above with her Mum to whom she credits her understanding of living and leading a life of purpose.

Discovering our Purpose

By Jacqueline Salter, 2019 Women’s Leadership Program Graduate

Leadership…It’s something we may fall into, or something we feel we should be doing at certain times in our career or lives. But how many people stop to consider why they lead? How many people have a clear leadership vision?

To develop a clear leadership vision, we must discover our purpose, for it is purpose that nourishes our soul and keeps us energized. Research suggests that only about 20% of leaders can clearly and convincingly express their own individual purpose. And of those leaders with a purpose, very few have a plan for translating it into action. I am lucky that I have always been very clear about my passion, which is working to protect the environment. However, it’s taken me a long while to think of myself as a leader and consciously embrace purposeful leadership. In June this year, I undertook the Women’s Leadership Program with Leadership Victoria. At the time, I was working towards establishing a ‘Women in Conservation’ mentoring program and I hoped the program would give me some skills to do that. I was not disappointed! Whilst I was used to public speaking and was clear on what I was passionate about, I wasn’t prepared for the deep introspective journey of self-discovery we embarked upon.

There was a strong emphasis on understanding your strengths, values and passion. Understanding these three things is the key to leading with purpose. It is useful to reflect upon the pivotal moments of our past – the challenging and the rewarding – and how we draw upon our strengths in those times. Values are revealed by reflecting on what we turn to when making difficult decisions. Unearthing our passion can come from reflecting on when it is that we feel most fulfilled. Passion is what keeps us energized, powerful, and resilient during difficult times. It drives deep engagement with what we do.

Together, these reflections help us develop a clear purpose, and gives guidance in a complex and ever-changing world.  Our purpose energises us and gives us the confidence to make the right decisions. Our purpose doesn’t have to be grand or ostentatious. Having a clear purpose allows us to find meaning in what we do, every day.

Setting up the conservation mentoring program is an example of something that excites, engages and inspires me. It makes me feel like I can make a difference. If you are true to our values, and are leading with purpose, others will recognise the authenticity behind your words and actions. In this way, you can inspire others and bring them along on your journey.  Rather than focus on what I need to work on, playing to my strengths allows things to flow easily and makes the journey so much enjoyable! I hope that by encouraging the mentors in my program to focus on the strengths of their mentees, we will support the development of future leaders.

Checking in on Purpose

By Chris Kotur (WCLP’94), Leader in Residence, Leadership Victoria 

I’m guilty. I think I have my purpose all worked out and then let life get in the way of re-examining, and possibly updating, my reasons for working and acting for others as I do; and checking to see if I can make any improvements.

The end of a year is a good time to reflect and do just that.

I worked on becoming clear about my purpose some time ago. The Williamson Community Leadership Program sharpened my focus.  I was certain my purpose would involve applying my skills and energy to make a positive difference for other people.

Fast forward. By now I have facilitated consultations for all levels of government, for three Royal Commissions, numerous inquiries, boards and community groups; and I routinely get to help hundreds of people work through difficult, complex problems.

Here are some ways that I use as a facilitator to reflect on purpose.

Stories are universal

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech Kazuo Ishiguro said, ‘Stories are about one person saying to another: This is the way it feels to me. Can you understand what I’m saying? Does it feel this way for you?’

Stories show me how different people react to difficulties and unwelcome change and point to the direction of where I can improve connections between the right people, services and stakeholders.

I gain so many new insights and fresh ideas from people’s stories. Each story is an opportunity to examine, shape and communicate purpose.

Questions matter

The facilitator’s role has had me ask questions of people affected by trauma, violence, mental illness, suffering and sadness. Their answers suggest it’s sometimes best to avoid searching for absolutes, for right or wrong or good or bad.  I learn more about how I can make a difference to people by asking ‘what would better look like’, ‘what would it take to improve these circumstances’, ‘if we could do things differently to make this better, what would they be?’

Each answer reveals ways to improve their lives and for me, ways to strengthen purpose.

Feeling safe is important

Facilitators can offer people ways to have open conversations without being afraid – conversations deep enough for differences to emerge and the search for ways to improve lives to continue.  Looking for improvement might mean people setting aside previously comfortable routines and behaviours to learn from others and adapt.

Here is a test of purpose that requires examining if ego and attachment to particular views get in the way of adapting to new, often unwelcome circumstances. The result is often a tense situation but always worth the effort.

As a facilitator I get to learn from stories and explore options to improve people’s lives. By asking keen questions and offering a safe space to explore different perspectives, I get numerous opportunities to test and strengthen my sense of purpose.

After this timely reflection and after all these years, my early commitment seems to be holding up quite well.

Trust, Reputation and Change

By Jill Calder, 1997 Williamson Alumnus and LV Program Speaker

The notion that trust is hard won and easily lost is something of a truism. Yet almost every day we hear of leaders who have knowingly engaged in behaviours that put at risk the trust their employees, customers, shareholders and/or stakeholders have in them.

They knowingly engage in endangering something that 94% of senior leaders in the public and private sector say is a primary asset of their organisation – reputation.[1]

It is easy to point at the usual suspects, those who have been through the forensic process of a Royal Commission or a criminal trial, but sadly it seems this behaviour occurs more broadly.

Is it any wonder then, that Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, has taken the world of trust and reputation by storm, with a TED Talk that has been watched nearly 45 million times and five New York Times bestsellers to her name.

“Trust is earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection,” she says.

Recent research on trust and reputation undertaken by SenateSHJ shows the cumulative effect of the small moments is high on the list of what triggers a loss of trust. According to SenateSHJ’s Reputation Reality Report 2019, customer dissatisfaction is now the most significant trigger for reputational risk in Australia, rising from fifth place in the last survey to number one in the current survey.

Customer satisfaction, or lack of it, was the core reason behind the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. Vulnerable people were treated badly and denied a voice by large institutions. The same story is true in so many other enquiries and commissions.

In fact, the research identified three key factors which play the biggest role in damaging organisational and personal reputation:

  • Unstructured and poor communication
  • Inauthentic demeanour by executives
  • Lack of ownership of issues.

So, what can be done to foster trust and protect the reputation of individuals and organisations?

There is no single answer, but purpose and values are somewhere near the centre.  There must be board and executive buy in to matching values and purpose with language and behaviours at all levels of the organisation. There must be a keen understanding of how your customers (or stakeholders) see you and a willingness to see things from their perspective. Data must inform decision making and organisations must be prepared to make and effectively communicate the hard decisions necessary to drive change.

Finally, because culture is set by what you are prepared to walk past, everyone in the organisation should be empowered to call out action which does not fulfil the company’s purpose or its values.

I recently presented to Leadership Victoria’s Leading Edge series on The Four Rooms of Change®, a theory and model for change developed by Swedish psychologist Claes Janssen and used world-wide. The theory is used to deepen awareness and understanding of how we approach and respond to change. In reflecting on trust and reputation for this piece, I found the following description in The Introduction to The Four Rooms of Change® particularly relevant: “One of the most important tasks in every organisation, large or small, is to contribute to an open atmosphere where serious discussions about the climate at work, relationships between staff members and results can be addressed.”[2]

 

For more information on Reputation Reality 2019 go to:  www.senateshj.com/insight/reputation-reality-2019/

For more information on The Four Rooms of Change®, go to: www.fourroomsofchange.com or  contact jill@senateshj.com.au

[1] Reputation Reality 2019, Trans-Tasman perspectives on reputation and risk, SenateSHJ

[2] Introduction to The Four Rooms of Change®, Claes Janssen, ©Claes Janssen and A&L partners AB 1997, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2009.

Building a Successful Board for a NFP

By Professor Emeritus Barbara Van Ernst Am (EBLP’06), LV Program Speaker and Education Consultant

Choosing the members of a Board of a Not for Profit (NFP) organisation is as important as it is fraught. Many small NFPs have begun around someone’s kitchen table, with a few passionate people with a common cause, working together to make a difference or to support each other. Before long there is a need to raise funds and then the realisation that some more formality is required. Many organisations move to become an Incorporated Association and others to a Company Limited by Guarantee. Suddenly there are external compliance and legal requirements, in particular because they are dealing with other people’s money. This transition I often describe as a move from a “cottage industry” to a “small business”. It is important to remember that the Board members are, in fact, Directors of the organisation, with a range of legal responsibilities. You may find that the “founder” of the organisation wants to remain in charge. Sometimes this makes it difficult to manage change, and needs to be addressed, possibly though upper limits on the term of office as a director.

With more formality needed, it is important to build a strong Board – a team which has the ability to plan ahead (strategic thinking), to manage and account for the money (financial responsibility), is able to engage stakeholders (communication skills) and can work through issues together (team work). So when making decisions on Board membership, it is wise to keep these ideas in mind. There is a need to understand the legal and compliance environment in which you work, but that does not mean you must have a lawyer on the Board. In the event that you need legal advice, you may be able to find assistance pro bono, or otherwise pay for the service.  However, I do think it is a good idea to have a skilled accountant as Treasurer to manage the finances and risk if possible. If not, it is advisable to engage an external expert to assist.  This is particularly important to ensure that you follow the new accounting standards for NFP reporting.

When seeking new Board members, it is essential that the current Board discuss the sorts of people you would like. Are there any particular roles or skills you need to include? It is inappropriate for the chair or a board member to just invite a friend. This often results in people who do not bring sufficient diversity to the Board. It also may lead to the perception that there is an inner circle.

The Board also needs to be comfortable with the recruiting process involved. Will you place an advertisement in the local paper? If so what is the wording? You may decide to use a free service such as the Institute of Company Directors Australia or Our Community. 

When you receive applications, you need to consider carefully as you select. In my view transparency is one of the most important qualities of a good Board As informed decision-making is essential, it is important to develop processes for preparing good information so that everyone has the same information. You are aiming for a team which is open, collaborative, respectful and prepared to work. It is also a good idea to ask a prospective member to attend a meeting as an observer, just to make sure you have found the right new team member.

 

Professor Emeritus Barbara Van Ernst Am (EBLP’06), LV Program Speaker and Education Consultant

Barbara has had extensive experience in leadership roles, in universities and the community. She was Head of School at Deakin University and Deputy Vice Chancellor at Swinburne University, where her role included responsibility for learning and teaching and community engagement. She was a councillor in local government for nine years and mayor for two, chairing the council and several standing committees. She has also been a member two University Councils, and also a member of boards and government committees, mainly in arts and education. 

More recently she has been an education consultant, working with Universities, TAFE colleges and quality agencies both locally and internationally. She has also worked pro bono for a number of Boards in Victoria. This has given her the opportunity to assist organisations to address good governance, including inter alia, board membership, strategic planning, policy development, risk management, financial overview and conduct of meetings. 

 

Harnessing Stories of Us to Build Collective Agency

By Pink Heath Williamson Group – Reflection from the agency program day

This month’s balcony briefing left us with the question: How do we build agency and use it for the collective good?

Inherent in this statement is an acknowledgement that, as a Williamson 2019 participant, we each possess tremendous individual agency and a desire to lean into the challenge of working successfully within structures to build and exercise collective agency for the greater good. But how?

During our balcony briefing, Amanda Sinclair challenged us to hold the tension between individual agency and structural agency for the purposes of Williamson; salient advice later underscored by The Story of Self and Story of Us exercise completed on day two of the program.

For many of us, stories of self – who we are, what we do and why – were readily recalled. Stories of us – stories by which we engage people in acting together, based on shared values – were harder to surface, but revealed new depths of collective agency already at play in our small cohort.

Story of Us #1: Traditional planned burning, the new way (as told by Stephen Korp, 2019 Williamson Participant)  

Introduced earlier this year, the Victorian Traditional Owner Cultural Fire Strategy supports the practice of cultural burning to ensure knowledge about fire is sustained through generations.

The first of its kind in Victoria, the Strategy provides direction for fire and land management agencies to support Traditional Owners to undertake cultural burning as part of caring for Country.

But it wasn’t always so. Although cultural burning – skilfully harnessing fire to heal and manage Country – has been used by Traditional Owners for more than 50,000 years, controlled burning for asset protection is a relatively newer government responsibility.

Both methods sustain their communities. Both are rooted in experience, technical know-how and a commitment by the few (with agency) to act in the interest of the collective.

The delivery of the Strategy is the culmination of two years’ work, thousands of years of knowledge and, as Stephen puts it, “meeting after meeting”.  

More than 50 Traditional Owners and Aboriginal fire knowledge holders from across Victoria contributed to the Strategy, including Aboriginal staff from DELWP, Parks Victoria and CFA.

“Our Aboriginal community had the skills, so we had to work out together what was best for both parties and balance that with what the department was trying to achieve,” says Stephen.

“Through many, many meetings and working with the local Aboriginal Traditional Owners, we now perform traditional planned burns together, as one.” 

Story of Us #2: From Ireland, with love (as told by Gavin Rooney, 2019 Williamson Participant) 

A career fire-fighter and senior decision maker, Gavin traces his individual agency to the love, good will and sense of belonging afforded to his family on settling in Australia from Ireland in the 1970s.

It would be a defining experience that would shape his values of ambition, honesty, respect and loyalty, ultimately leading to a career in protecting others and the communities we share.

“These values have influenced my career choice as a firefighter and my ongoing commitment to my community via various volunteer roles,” says Gavin.

And it’s a big community – an organisation of 2200 employees, MFB provides services to almost three million Melbourne residents, workers and visitors, and safeguards assets and infrastructure worth billions of dollars.

But it’s not only Gavin’s work as a firefighter that allows him to exercise agency for the collective good.

“As a senior firefighter, I’m responsible for maintaining and improving the safety and standards of Melbourne’s built environment. As a White Ribbon Ambassador, I’m responsible for standing up, speaking out and acting to stop violence against women,” he says.

If involvement is an expression of agency, then Gavin’s choices are a statement on seeking out the structures that give those with the capacity and capability the opportunity to follow through.

“These roles enable me to focus my agency in ways that support and provide opportunities for others to build agency for the collective good,” he says.

Two* career firefighters. Two very different stories of self and stories of us. Both successfully working within structures to build and exercise collective agency.

 

*Stephen is no longer a career fire fighter. But ‘career-fire-fighter-turned-artist, youth mentor and educator’ didn’t work as well here.

How Does Your Worldview Affect Your Leadership?

By Tony Matthews (WCLP’10), Leadership Associate, Leadership Victoria

If you struggled with T.S Eliot as much as I did back in high school literature class, then you might be wary of a blog opening with a T.S Eliot quote. That’s why I have buffered it between this sentence and the next:

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” 

Have you ever had one of those surreal experiences when you are in deep conversation with someone that you have perhaps known your whole life, and in that moment, it is as if you are looking on them for the first time? In that moment, you see them in a different light, and it changes everything.

I don’t know any developmental psychologists but if there was one here now, they would probably tell us (in plainer language than Eliot) that we are all shaped by these moments and life experiences. No one is without bias. We all see the world through our own tinted glasses and we are never lens free.

These frames are known as our ‘action-logics’ – they give meaning to how we see the world and the logic that informs our very thoughts and actions.

But most of us are not conscious of our action-logic and while we are blind to it, we cannot transform ourselves or our organisations beyond it.

Think about the ‘shifting sands’ of your sector or industry. Operating in an unpredictable landscape (and what sector is not?), will your organisation ever realise its vision with current conventional thinking?

All around us we see the need for more insightful, strategic leadership. Leaders today need to transcend beyond the conventional – move beyond the ‘diplomat’, ‘expert’ or even ‘achiever’ frames to post conventional, strategic thinking.

Since 2012, Leadership Victoria has been applying constructive development theory in our senior leadership programs (the Williamson and Folio Leadership Programs). Participants have been profiled using the Harthill Leadership Development Profile, to identify their constructed reality (action-logic) and how it is that they respond to situations.

Undertaking a pre-program assessment and a longitudinal, post program assessment, over 70% of participants transformed beyond the limits of their current thinking, towards a more post conventional frame.

This supports much more comprehensive research that shows that a vertical learning experience can actually advance our leadership capabilities and how we plan and respond for the future of our very own organisations and communities.

In a world moving so fast, it isn’t a question of just keeping up anymore, but how we move ahead of conventional thinking. The first step is to shine the light on ourselves, accept the limitations of our current action-logic, before we can transform.

If you are interested in learning more about this work, a good starting point is: Seven Transformations of Leadership, David Rooke and William Torbert, April 2005, Harvard Business Review

 

Tony Matthews (WCLP’10), Leadership Associate, Leadership Victoria

Tony has extensive management and leadership experience gained from working across the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. With over 25 years’ experience in the design, development and delivery of high quality leadership and professional development programs, Tony has a passion and drive for creating learning organisations and communities.  

From 2011 to 2019, Tony was the General Manager Leadership Programs at Leadership Victoria. Prior to commencing at Leadership Victoria, Tony was Manager Professional Development with Local Government Professionals Inc (LGPro) with responsibility for overseeing and responding to the professional development requirements of the local government sector, including lead facilitation of prominent programs and activities across the sector. 

Tony has demonstrated his commitment to leadership for social impact through a number of community projects, including involvement in an AusAid project to develop and deliver a suite of leadership development offerings to Timor-Leste officers in preparation for the decentralization of Timor-Leste government.

In his past role at Leadership Victoria as General Manager Leadership Programs, Tony and his team designed and delivered LV’s full suite of open enrolment and tailored programs and activities including the Williamson Community Leadership Program, the Folio Community Leadership Program and the Board Leadership Programs, together with the customised leadership development activities and Leadership Victoria’s mentoring and community project capabilities. Tony is now a Leadership Associate with Leadership Victoria.  

Tony is an Alumnus of the Williamson Community Leadership Program (WCLP’10) and holds a Master of Management (Full Distinction) and an undergraduate Bachelor of Arts.  

Other Qualifications:

  • Graduate Diploma in Management
  • Graduate Certificate in Human Resources
  • Certificate IV Assessment and Workplace Training
  • Certified Targeted Selection Interviewer
  • Accredited Harthill Leadership Development Profile Facilitator (Stages of Social Consciousness)
  • Accredited Immunity to Change Process Facilitator (trained directly by Lisa Lahey, faculty member of Harvard University and co-creator of the Immunity to Change process)

Take a Seat – The Canberra Experience

Every year, the Williamson Leadership Program travels to Canberra to explore politics, policy, leadership and influence in the national capital. In this article, a group of 2019 Williamson participants give us their bird’s eye perspective on this year’s experience, as they wearily travel home. 

Take a Seat – The Canberra Experience by Golden Wattle Williamson Group

All rise!

Make yourself comfortable and hold a soft gaze before closing your eyes. Breathe in. Acknowledge the air as it gently fills your lungs. Pause. Let the weight fall from your shoulders as you breathe out.

What’s behind you? What at first looks like a chair, is in fact your obligation. From this seat, you hold immense power and privilege; more than most, yet less than the powerful few. The art from here is to understand how you can harness this position.

Please take your seat.

Across two action-packed days in Canberra, we were able to dive deeply into the essential question of “What needs to adapt for a thriving democratic Australia: Our system of democracy or the obligation we take for it?”

Dr Andrea Carson, Associate Professor of Politics, Media and Philosophy, challenged us to consider how so many were able to read the federal election result so wrong. As we critique the notion of a ‘Canberra bubble’, how many of us are forced to consider the bubble that might surround each of us – masking and shaping our perspective on the genuine state of the nation? Regardless of whether this outcome is a success or failure of democracy, are we as the voting public fully appreciating and performing our role adequately?

Next, we toured the various chambers and corridors of Old Parliament House, admiring the ornate Speaker’s Chair and considering the responsibility that comes with sitting in it as our presiding officer and governor of a fierce and just democratic debate. Down the hallway we passed the Prime Minister’s office, imagining if the walls could speak, what they might say while observing Australia’s most significant chair and the array of leadership styles – from command and control to dictatorial to absolute consensus-driving – bestowed by those who have graced it.

Then to our lobbyists where we learned that this seat doesn’t simply mediate delicate diplomacy, but literally “open doors in this town.” The lobbyists cautioned us to not miss the mood or mode of the Parliament; encouraged us to crystallise the message; don’t threaten, don’t waffle; ask for something; bring solutions; have a united clear message with a local focal point; and closed with a word of warning: “if you can’t say it in 10 pages, you don’t have a case.” The lobbyists also explained that this critical seat, quite simply, brings advocacy, translation and efficiency to the political ecosystem.

In the frantic world of the 24-hour news cycle, frequent polling and political impatience, two media specialists took us on a walk down the memory lane of media and the dramatic changes they’ve experienced in the Press Gallery over the past three decades. As a critical conduit between the voting public and Capital Hill, they described the view from their (sufficiently cynical) chair where specialisation is all but extinct among major mastheads and where “politics have become an inch wide and an inch deep” as critical issues are presented in black-and-white three-word-slogans when “genuine media interest really lies in the shades of grey.” Yet, amidst immense change, one thing has held true: “good policy makes great politics.”

This “CNN effect” was then reinforced by a Politics and International Relations Lecturer at the Australian National University, who offered an analytical perspective to the federal election and spoke to the impatient response times demanded in today’s political context and the blind faith in polling that fuelled media narratives and arguably, in-turn, public perceptions. As a counter perspective, they also presented historical data that suggested how challenging it is to shift the political preferences of a significant portion of the Australian public, reinforcing John Howard’s notion that “you can’t fatten the pig on market day.”

What better way to close out the day than to hear from National Press Club royalty over a meal with budding friends as Michelle Grattan educated us on the art of politics, the distraction of ‘strawberry-gate’, the errors of chasing big targets in political campaigning, and the distinctive difference between authority and leadership that she’s witnessed across her illustrious career.

Day two gave us the chance to sit in the hot seat of a speaker from a national representative organisation and appreciate the multiple and competing forces facing them in their role. Wedged neatly between the government, the opposition, multiple industries and the public, the representative told us his leadership story in living out his personal passion, “fronting and facing-up” to the people he represents in a context where you simply “can’t please everyone all of the time.”

An elected member for a Melbourne suburban seat, the next speaker spoke of the leadership challenge of authentically representing her local constituency. She spoke of her party on a national stage, gender in a patriarchal political arena, and her young family in a society still struggling to value genuine work-life balance and stay-at-home men. While feeling counter-intuitive, she warned against principle-compelled leadership, proving the next generation of politicians may just well have the patience and sensibility to play the long-game in Canberra.

After parting ways to visit the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and explore Timor-Leste’s story of the struggle for independence and Australia’s role in South East Asia, we finally convened at the Australian National University. We rounded out our Canberra immersion experience with an academic and personal reflection of the complex legal context surrounding the nation’s ability to positively recognise Indigenous Australian people in the Constitution. A powerful lesson in Australian history, understanding, equality, inclusiveness and justice, a professor at ANU graciously shone a light on the dissonance among today’s common law and the firmly-held views of many Australians to treaty and Indigenous recognition – a stark reminder that not all seats are currently equal and that recognition is not about providing identity, but in fact “begetting the wrongs of the past.”

As we wearily claimed our seats on the plane home to Melbourne, we couldn’t help but consider our role “in this mess” and reflect on the question of this Canberra trip – what does need to adapt for a thriving democratic Australia?

Now it’s time for one last deep breath in. Feel the air pass through your nostrils and into your diaphragm. Hold. Give thanks for the wonderful people of Golden Wattle and when you’re ready, open your eyes.

Leadership Emanates from the Depths of Who You Are

By Dr Brenda Holt (FCLP’14), Principal, St Hilda’s College, The University of Melbourne

I have now been in senior leadership roles for over 20 years, and in that time I have learnt that authenticity goes a really long way — your leadership emanates from the depths of who you are. It is important to bring the best of who you are and play to those strengths well.

Be Authentic

Authenticity — being true to yourself, and allowing others to know who you really are — goes a long way. Your leadership emanates from the depths of who you are, not from who you would like to be. I learned this lesson the hard way. When I was a young leader at University, I was invited to give an important speech on leadership to a large gathering of student leaders. The feedback was extraordinary and I left feeling as though I had done an incredible job. I told captivating stories and included quotes from the latest books on leadership. Afterwards, an older mentor caught up with me. ‘Oh, Brenda,’ she said, ‘a lot of people really admire you.’  I did my best to look humble. Then she continued, ‘Of course, no one actually knows you. I have just listened to you speak for 20 minutes and I know nothing about who you really are.’ She didn’t stop. ‘If you have any plans to truly influence people,’ she said, ‘you need to let people know you. Admired leaders sit on pedestals but have no lasting impact on others. It is leaders who are known that make others want to follow them and be better people.’

After I picked myself up and licked my wounds, I realised how right she was. Think first about a leader that you have always admired from a distance, but never known personally. Has their life had any real impact on the way that you live your life every day? Then think about a person who has really influenced you — your ways of being, your values, your life goals — and I would bet it is someone that you know well, someone that has let you know them as a flawed but real human being. Real leaders influence others, and influence only happens when you are known. Being placed on a pedestal and admired by others from afar makes you feel great in the moment. The truth is, it makes no real difference in people’s lives.

True North

Some of my peers read voraciously about leadership. They are constantly trying on different styles of leadership they have read about. You can be a strategic leader, an innovative leader, a consultative leader, a networked leader. The list of possibilities is endless. What I have found really helpful is Bill George’s concept of True North. True North is your orientation point, your fixed point in a spinning world that helps you stay on track as a leader. It is derived from your most deeply held beliefs, values and the principles you lead by. True North is your internal compass, unique to you, representing who you are at your deepest level.

I have discovered that if I bring my True North, my most authentic self, to my role, I will be the best leader I can be. It’s true, you can always learn new skills in leadership, however who you are, is set in place. Work out your strengths and stop beating yourself up for what you’re not good at. I will never be dispassionate and reserved. Believe me, I’ve tried. It is not in my DNA. I will never be the sort of leader who can be bureaucratic and transactional. My True North is a deep love for people, a commitment to their development and care and a dedication to help every person in my wake get to where they need to go. My strengths help me be that sort of leader and I have stopped trying to be anyone else.

Bringing my authentic self to everything I do, means that I am completely present wherever I am and with whoever I’m with. It also means that I always have a larger picture in mind. I am constantly thinking about culture, structures and resources that will help everyone in my care be their best selves.

I will leave you with some key questions to help you discover your own authentic self:

  1. What one word do you want people to use to describe you? What word would they currently use?
  2. If you were to donate everything you have to a cause or charity, which cause would it be?
  3. If you accomplish one thing by the end of the year, what would make the biggest impact on your happiness?
  4. What do you think are the most important values to live by? Are you living your life accordingly?

 

Dr Brenda Holt (FCLP’14)

Brenda’s work as an educator over the last twenty years has focused around equity and access for underrepresented young people. Starting her career at an outer suburban high school in Melbourne as an English teacher, Brenda moved to the higher education sector in 1993. She has worked as an academic advisor, counsellor, teacher, Head of College, researcher and administrator during this time. 

Although she grew up in rural Texas in the USA, she has been a happy migrant in Australia, mainly Melbourne, since 1989. Frustrated with seeing young rural Australians represented mainly in educational statistical data, Brenda decided to undertake a PhD in order to demonstrate some of the complexities of inequality in education that are hard to measure. Her thesis, ‘Global Routes/Rural Roots: Identity, Rural Women and Higher Education’, was completed at the end of 2007 and won the 2009 Chancellor’s Prize (Social Sciences).  Brenda is currently Principal of St Hilda’s College, University of Melbourne, a residential college at the university.

1 - Brenda Holt

 

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