Team member to team leader

How do you transition from a team member to a team leader?

Coaching and mentoring Rachel*, a newly appointed team leader, has been a very interesting assignment. Rachel is a comparatively young woman whose boss appointed her to a leadership position on the basis of her potential. When I first met with Rachel, she was already well advanced in identifying the steps she needed to take to move successfully from being a member of a tight-knit team to the leader of it.

The first challenge Rachel identified for herself was letting go of her friendship group at work, a tough decision. In every workplace, people develop friendships with some of the people they work with, but not all. Rachel realised that if she continued in her strong friendships with some members of the team, this could easily be perceived as favouritism by the others. Rachel decided to take the courageous step of speaking with her friends, to explain the situation, and making sure that when there were social events, everyone was invited. If they met as a smaller group, Rachel decided she couldn’t attend.

The second was identifying the behaviours that were holding back some of her former team mates from delivering effectively in a very high-volume work environment. These behaviours ranged from people who didn’t pull their weight to people who were trying to work 24/7 and not coping. Rachel put performance plans in place for each team member to hold them accountable for what they were meant to do as well as helping those who were over-working to pull back. Rachel made a point of ensuring her own manager was part of developing this strategy because of the risks involved.

The third challenge is one new team leaders encounter constantly. With a need to make her team more efficient, Rachel had to find and implement new ways of doing business: she had to lead organisational change for the first time. Unsurprisingly, this met with considerable resistance from some members of the team, who wanted to enshrine the virtue of ‘the way we’ve always done things round here’. Putting in place the changes she needed to make, when she had herself been part of the old process, was a considerable challenge for Rachel. She didn’t want to look like a hypocrite, so effective communication was essential.

What was the role of a coach and mentor with a client who was already so far progressed in finding strategies to make the transition from team member to team leader? In fact, I asked her this very question. She told me there were two things she wanted my help with. The first was as a sounding board, so she could outline the steps she proposed to take to test if they were the right ones and in the right order.

The second was to work with her on how to achieve her strategies for change. Although she was already a very effective communicator, she wanted my help to refine her messages to the team about what needed to be done and why.

The third was to help her evaluate her approaches, to workshop with her what worked and what didn’t and, where things had not gone according to plan, help her to check the strategies were the right ones. On the basis of this evaluation, she also wanted assistance with deciding whether to press on, modify the approach, or let go of a strategy and try a different approach altogether.

Coaching such an effective young leader has been an inspiring task. As I said to Rachel, my only question is not whether she will become an effective leader but what organisation she will end up leading.

Contributor: Dr Catherine Burrows is a Sydney-based executive coach, available in Wollongong, Newcastle, Western NSW and other areas by arrangement. Catherine is a co-founder of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting.

*Rachel is not the name of an actual client. This case study is an amalgam of work undertaken with new and aspiring team leaders.

Why truly successful leaders need emotional intelligence

In this post Trish Kelly looks at the characteristics of emotional intelligence and tells us how you can improve this important area to become a truly successful leader.

Trish Kelly executive coach
Trish Kelly, executive coach

Most people agree that effective leaders have intellectual drive, knowledge, vision, passion, creativity and good communication skills. These days, it is increasingly being recognised that to be truly successful, leaders must also have emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is essentially the way we recognise, understand, express and manage our emotions and the emotions of others. Leaders with emotional intelligence understand how their emotions and actions affect the teams they work with. What’s more, they are able to use their emotional intelligence to connect with, motivate and empower their teams.

The five key characteristics leaders with emotional intelligence exhibit are:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Management
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social Skills

Self-Awareness – This is a critical pillar of emotional intelligence. It is our ability to recognise our emotions and the feelings associated with an emotion, the things that trigger those emotions and how we react to them. Self-awareness is the essential building block for self-management of our emotions. This is because, before we can look at how we can manage, control or adapt our emotions, we need to understand what they are and how we respond to them.

Awareness of our emotions can be developed. We can reflect on what our strengths and areas for development are and how we feel and respond in different situations, and we can seek feedback from others.

Self-Management This is our ability to use awareness of our emotions to stay flexible, to positively direct our behavior and to stay in control.

Leaders who manage themselves effectively are trustworthy and adaptable. They stay calm and rational under pressure and maintain a solutions focus when things go wrong. They rarely make rushed or emotional decisions, stereotype people or compromise their values.

We can improve our ability to self-manage by developing skills to remain calm and solutions focussed in challenging situations, by being very clear about the values that are important to us and by knowing the values we will not comprise. We can also continually reflect on situations to understand why we acted in the way that we did, and then use that experience to learn how to better manage similar situations in the future.

Motivation – This is our ability to harness our emotions to motivate ourselves to commit to appropriate actions, to follow through and to deliver results.

Self-motivated leaders are usually optimistic and have high energy which is contagious in the workplace, and they consistently focus on delivering results even in challenging circumstances.

We can recharge our motivation by reminding ourselves what we love about our job and about leading our team, by reflecting on successes, by making sure our goals are relevant and energising, and by adopting a positive mindset in challenging situations.

Empathy – This is our ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from their perspective; in other words, it’s our ability ‘to walk in their shoes’.

Leaders who display empathy are good listeners. They pay attention to body language and are able to read other people’s feelings accurately. They welcome questions and feedback, are both confident and humble, and are able to adapt their communication style to suit the situation.

We can improve our empathy by being aware of our biases and making sure they don’t interfere with our ability to listen, and by keeping an open mind and asking respectful questions to get insights into situations from other people’s perspectives.

Social Skills – This is our ability to build relationships.

Leaders who have good social skills are great communicators, develop open and supportive workplace cultures, foster teamwork and innovation, celebrate successes, embrace change, resolve conflict well and model the values they hold.

We can improve our social skills by reflecting on how well we communicate and connect with our teams, and seeking feedback from others about what works well and what we could improve in our workplace.

It’s never too late to learn! So how would you rate your emotional intelligence and what actions can you take to enhance your emotional intelligence?

Contributor: Our current featured member, Trish Kelly, is an experienced leader, change manager and facilitator with over 30 years’ experience in the public sector, working in very large organisations in both regional and central office roles.

Through her experience as the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities, the largest organisation in the southern hemisphere, Trish is well equipped to work with executives, aspiring leaders and others to support and guide them to achieve their goals and to maximise their performance and impact.

Why high performing organisations foster and champion staff engagement

While leaders in most organisations would agree that our employees are more valuable and important to our business than any other asset, not all leaders drive a culture that encourages, values and recognises genuine employee engagement.

So what is employee engagement?

Trish Kelly executive coach
Trish Kelly, executive coach

Put simply, employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organisation and its goals.Engaged employees are not just working to earn money: they are actually motivated to do a good job and they connect with the organisation and its purpose.

Employee engagement occurs in workplaces where the culture is based on trust, is open, inclusive and transparent and employees have a clear understanding of the organisation’s vision, goals and targets. They feel motivated and connected to and valued by the organisation, they want to contribute to the organisation’s success and they are encouraged and feel empowered to provide their ideas and views to drive continuous improvement and innovation.

There are a number of benefits to the organisation from a highly engaged workforce.

Engaged employees are more likely to have high job satisfaction levels and have a high level of commitment and loyalty to the organisation. This in turn is likely to result in fewer staff grievances and less lost time to sick leave and workers compensation. It is also likely to lead to higher staff retention rates, and retaining high performing staff is a key success factor for most organisations. In addition, organisations that have a culture and reputation for staff engagement are more likely to attract high quality candidates when recruiting for new staff.

Staff productivity is essential in any organisation. Engaged employees are motivated to deliver results in the most effective and efficient way and, when the chips are down, they are committed to rolling their sleeves up and going the extra mile to deliver.

Successful organisations continue to grow and evolve. If they are great, they strive to become even greater. Among other things, these organisations foster continuous improvement and innovation. One of the best ways to generate improvements and innovation is to get input from the employees who do the actual work. They can often see problems and identify ways to improve business practices that are invisible to the leaders of an organisation. In addition, when employees see that their ideas and suggestions are listened to and implemented, where appropriate, they will become even more engaged and the organisation becomes more successful, a great win/win outcome.

Engaged employees are enthusiastic, want to do a good job and take pride in it. In jobs that have a customer focus this means that the employee will do everything in their power to deliver a high quality service to their customers which is yet another win/win experience for the customer and the organisation.

What are you doing to drive and foster staff engagement in your organisation?

Contributor: Our current featured member, Trish Kelly, is an experienced leader, change manager and facilitator with over 30 years’ experience in the public sector, working in very large organisations in both regional and central office roles.

Through her experience as the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities, the largest organisation in the southern hemisphere, Trish is well equipped to work with executives, aspiring leaders and others to support and guide them to achieve their goals and to maximise their performance and impact.

Uluru statement from the heart

This week we are stepping aside from our usual themes to ask you to read, and support, the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Executive Coach Exchange Uluru Statement from the HeartThe Statement asks us to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples “in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”

We support the Statement wholeheartedly and consider that its importance for leadership and transformation, in the broader sense, cannot be overstated. You can support the Statement here, and here, by sharing it from here, and by contacting your Member of Parliament.

Catherine Burrows & Elizabeth Burrows
Founding Partners
Executive Coach Exchange

Workplace bullying – interview with Philip Carroll – part 2

Last week we interviewed Philip Carroll about workplace bullying. He talked about what it is – and isn’t

This week, Philip shares his insights on preventing workplace bullying.

Executive Coach Exchange bullying
St George & the Dragon, Bernt Notke, Storkyrkan, Stockholm. Photo: C Burrows

To begin, Philip said, the leader needs to model the behaviour he or she wants to see and then require every single person in the workplace – not just the managers – to model the same behaviour. Fundamentally, he told us, it’s an issue of respect.

A leader must create a good culture within their organisation and follow through on that culture, irrespective of the size of the organisation. Philip says that you can’t assume workplace bullying won’t happen, even in small organisations, because it happens in real life.

Philip believes that organisations of every size can and should address the issue of bullying, though this would be done in different ways. The essence is for the leader to create, model and promote good cultural values.

The next thing to do is to recruit to that culture. Philip noted in last week’s interview how much bullying can cost an organisation. It has also been found that, “A mistake in the recruitment process that leads to an early employee resignation or dismissal can cost an employer between half and two-thirds of the employee’s annual salary.” This means that an organisation needs to set their culture and ensure their recruitment process is robust enough to allow them to appoint people who will support and promote that culture.

Once you have done this, he says, you need to manage to the culture. A leader can do this by:

  • Developing a behavioural standards framework;
  • Communicating that framework to all the employees;
  • Demonstrating that the leader knows the framework applies equally to them;
  • Ensuring new staff are made aware of the organisation’s behavioural standards framework;
  • Making the behavioural standards framework part of the contract of employment; and
  • Embedding the behavioural standards framework as part of every employee’s day-to-day workplace experience.

Philip says the next step is early intervention. Leaders and their managers should watch out for warning signs, such as general behaviours which are not aligned to the cultural values of the organisation; or poor behaviour in stressful situations. Philip says you should act early without over-reacting. “I’m a big believer in early, appropriate and proportionate intervention.” He notes that this doesn’t have to be a manager; a peer who sees things starting to go wrong can simply ask, “Are you OK?”

However, despite everyone’s best efforts, workplace bullying may still occur. We asked Philip what people should do.

He told us it’s essential for every workplace to have a procedure for managing workplace bullying. For a small organisation, it might be a very simple document while for a large corporation, it could be a set of workplace policies and procedures. The important thing here is that it is fit for purpose. If someone is subject to or aware of bullying, these procedures should be the first things they refer to, in order to find out what to do and who to go to. They should form part of the behavioural standards framework.

The next step, he believes, is to seek advice from an appropriate source and this kind of information should be in the procedure. Philip says places people can look to for advice might include:

  • A designated complaints handler within the organisation;
  • A respected, experienced colleague;
  • A union representative;
  • A member of the organisation’s human resources staff; or
  • An external expert.

People then need to make a careful and informed decision about what to do based on that advice, because the next step is often a formal investigation.

Philip believes workplace bullying is a high enough order issue to form an integral part of an employment relationship, so that a breach of the relationship may lead to dismissal.

He believes that, fundamentally, the key to addressing workplace bullying is to prevent it in the first place and the link here is to leadership. A leader who sets the right cultural values and follows through with these is far more likely to act swiftly and appropriately when bullying does happen and to lead a harmonious workplace where bullying scarcely, if ever, occurs.

Philip spoke to Catherine Burrows, a Sydney-based executive coach and our current featured member.

Workplace bullying – interview with Philip Carroll – part 1

Philip Carroll is the Founder and Principal of Philip Carroll and Associates. He has over 19 years’ senior executive experience in large and complex government businesses. He is also an experienced Non-Executive Director and Chair within international, commercial and not for profit organisations. Philip has extensive experience in People and Culture, Workplace Reform and Industrial Relations. We asked him to talk to us about an important current issue – workplace bullying.

Philip Carroll
Philip Carroll

To begin, we asked Philip to talk to us about what workplace bullying is. He told us that it is repeated, unreasonable and unwanted behaviour and that the concepts of its being both repeated and unreasonable are particularly important to the definition. Philip referred us to Safe Work Australia, which defines bullying in the following way:

“Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety…because it may affect the mental and physical health of workers. … Bullying can take different forms including psychological, physical or even indirect — for example deliberately excluding someone from work-related activities.”

Philip said that while workplace bullying most commonly occurs when a more senior person bullies a less senior one, this is not always the case. Bullying can also occur between peers or when a less senior person bullies a more senior one, although he said the latter is much less common on account of the power imbalance which generally exists in this relationship. In Philip’s experience, freezing people out most commonly occurs between peers, while bullying by subordinates may take the form of vexatious complaints or aggressive attention-seeking behaviours. It’s important to remember these behaviours must be repeated and unreasonable to be bullying.

Philip does not believe that intention is critical to a definition of bullying, because the impact of abusive behaviour is the same, whether it is purposeful or not: “In my opinion, intent is a distraction,” he said.

We then asked him what bullying is not. He gave several examples of interactions between managers and their staff which may involve difficult conversations but which are not bullying. These include:

  • Setting someone’s KPIs and planning their work with them;
  • Discussing someone’s performance based on their established KPIs;
  • Discussing someone’s failure to meet their agreed KPIs or other targets; and
  • Raising an issue with someone.

Philip told us that all these activities are appropriate management activities, as long as they are undertaken in accordance with proper procedures.

He also said that while sexual harassment and discrimination may accompany or form part of bullying behaviours, they are not necessarily bullying. Rather, they are serious issues in their own right and are so serious that, unlike bullying, they do not need to be repeated behaviours. (We have added some links to sites where you can find out more about these important topics.)

We asked Philip to talk about the cost of bullying, from an organisational perspective. He mentioned:

  • Loss of productivity;
  • Loss of workers and the resulting cost of recruitment;
  • Legal costs;
  • Fines and other legal penalties; and
  • Payments to staff whose claims are accepted.

For example, Safe Work Australia reports a “…$22,600 median cost for accepted bullying and/or harassment claims in 2013-14”; while the Australian Human Rights Commission states, “A recent impact and cost assessment calculated that workplace bullying costs Australian employers between $6–$36 billion dollars every year when hidden and lost opportunity costs are considered.”

He then spoke about the impact on individuals, linking it back to Safe Work Australia, which says:

“Workplace bullying can seriously harm worker mental health with depression, psychological distress and emotional exhaustion common outcomes for bullied workers.”

Philip believes that workplace bullying can have a significant negative impact on an individual, the people around them and the whole organisation. He has himself been asked to investigate allegations of bullying and has noted the cost on everyone involved. He said, “If you get to the point of a formal investigation, everybody loses. That’s why I believe that prevention really is the key to addressing bullying.”

Philip spoke to Catherine Burrows. Next week, Philip talks to us about preventing bullying and what to do if occurs.

Leadership series – Kate Baxter AM

Kate is the Regional General Manager, TAFE NSW West region. She is responsible for a region which is larger than France, stretching from Broken Hill to Lithgow and up to Queensland. Her region has 40,000 students, many in small, remote communities. In 2018, she was awarded the AM for significant service to education administration in rural New South Wales, to training programs for Indigenous students, and to the community.

Kate Baxter AM: A leader must be prepared to do the difficult things that no-one else wants to do

Executive Coach Exchange Kate Baxter AM
Kate Baxter AM

When asked about leadership, Kate begins by dispelling a myth. “There are lots of stereotypes about what a good leader has to be like but different kinds of people can make good leaders.” For example, “Many people think only extroverts can be good leaders. I have an introverted personality but this doesn’t impede my ability to lead.”

She lists four aspects of good leadership. The first is relationships. “To lead, you must have someone following you.” Not everyone has to be a leader. Leaders and followers need each other, so you must be able to form and maintain relationships. Trust must exist for productive leadership.

The second is vision combined with the ability to communicate that vision. Kate feels strongly that having a vision without being able to communicate it is not leadership, so communication skills are crucial. Good leadership also includes the ability to communicate a consistent message about the vision in different ways, so you engage people’s passion in what they are doing.

The third is courage. A leader must be prepared to do the difficult things that no-one else wants to do. She gives two examples. The first is having the difficult conversations with the people who work for you. The second is keeping your own integrity intact, doing what you know needs to be done.

The fourth is looking over the horizon. A leader must be able to see further than the people who are following her. The leader must be alert to what’s coming and communicate that back to people.

When we asked Kate about a leader who inspired her, she gave an example from very early in her career. Kate was given a leadership role only 18 months after completing university. She was asked to lead service development and delivery for survivors of sexual assault, both women and children. She was given responsibility for designing and implementing a whole new area of service across Central Western NSW.

Kate was responsible for a small team and was asked to lead policy, delivery and accountability across the region. This forced her to think about leadership for the first time.

The leader Kate spoke about was responsible for the program state-wide. The first characteristic Kate admired was her ability to remain calm under pressure, no matter what was going on. Kate said she has always tried to do this herself, ever since. The second was that the leader was very strategic, which meant she was not overwhelmed by opportunities or challenges. Kate said this led her to try to always think more strategically.

The third thing Kate learned was when the leader conducted training for the regional managers. The leader drew a picture of a tree, with roots, the trunk and leaves. The leader said that far too often we go straight to the leaves but we must start with the roots and the trunk. If the strategy is planted firmly, the leaves will follow. But if we start from the leaves, the strategy won’t last.

For Kate, this meant she went back to her line manager and gained approval to build the strategy for six months before implementing any service provision. She took the time to visit all the towns in the area to get people on board so she could build the strategy into the communities. The result was that the strategy Kate developed is in still in place today – and, she told us, she still has her copy of the tree drawing – 32 years later.

Contributor: Dr Catherine Burrows is a Sydney-based executive coach, available in Wollongong, Newcastle, Western NSW and other areas by arrangement. Catherine is a Founding Partner of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting.

Leadership series – Cindy Berwick

Cindy Berwick is the President of the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultation Group Inc. For 40 years, the NSW AECG has been the peak advisory body for all levels of education for the Aboriginal Peoples of New South Wales. It has local members spread out across 127 communities and its grassroots structure is key to its success. Cindy is a Ngunnawal woman descending from the Bell family in Yass.

Executive Coach Exchange Cindy Berwick
Cindy Berwick

Cindy Berwick: Listening, consulting and being open to new ideas are at the heart of leadership

Cindy believes that what makes a true leader stand out is their ability to bring people along on the journey. She says a leader needs to be able to create a vision which is forward-looking and focussed on the greater good and not on the self. Cindy added that a leader must also have integrity, strong principles and value humanity.

Creating the vision is only the beginning, however. Cindy says the critical role for the leader is make sure that everybody can see the vision the leader has created and accept it. Only then can each person involved work towards the vision.

The primary role of the NSW AECG Inc. is to promote active participation by Aboriginal people in the consultative and decision-making process of education and training related matters. For this vision to be effective, there needs to be clear messages that people can understand. These messages allow people to accept the vision as their own and then work towards achieving it.

Consultation is at the heart of the NSW AECG. The NSW AECG Inc. has local, regional and state networks that enable effective communication. This allows an Aboriginal community viewpoint to be echoed throughout the organisation.

Working with a grassroots organisation requires significant effort and time being invested in consultation and discussion. For Cindy, this means having open channels of communication, where listening is just as important as talking – perhaps even more so.

When asked to talk about a leader who had influenced her, Cindy had a different approach from some of the other leaders we spoke to. Cindy said there were many people who inspired her, rather than influencing her leadership.

One person she mentioned was William Ferguson, a trade unionist who launched the Aborigines Progressive Association in 1937. He demanded justice, decency and fair play and he is sometimes called the Martin Luther King of Australia.

Mr Ferguson was one of the leaders who planned the 1938 Day of Mourning, to draw attention to the damage done to Aboriginal Australians by colonisation. Cindy spoke about the recognition of his work through a Day of Hope. She believes everyone needs a ‘day of hope’, not just Aboriginal people.

Cindy said, “I don’t know everything. That’s why it’s important to read and listen widely, be open to ideas and be inspired to keep going and achieve better.”

In conclusion, Cindy told us that a leader needs to get everyone on the same bus. Some people are waiting for the bus. Some are late for the bus. Others miss the bus. The leader needs to make sure, eventually, that everyone she leads ends up on that bus.

Leadership series – Jai Waters

Jai Waters is Principal Consultant and Executive Coach for the Chandler Macleod Group. She has extensive senior executive experience working in the NSW Public Sector where she was responsible for state-wide end-to-end customer services, including student and business systems. In her current role Jai focuses on leadership development and career transition coaching.

Jai Waters: Good leadership is founded on a vision for the future

Executive Coach Exchange Jai Waters
Jai Waters

When talking about leadership, Jai was quick to clarify that her focus is on good leadership.

For Jai, good leadership has its foundation in a vision for the future. The leader’s role is to engage and enlist people in defining and delivering that vision. For her, this is how a leader achieves success.

Next, a good leader needs to recognise that everyone is different. For this reason, a leader must demonstrate respect and inclusion. By acknowledging and using everyone’s skills and capabilities, a good leader ensures people are the best they can be. The leader does this by providing opportunities, support and feedback to different people at different times, according to what each person needs at that time. Successful leaders recognise that people are equal but different.

Jai feels that good leaders are responsive to ‘rumbles’, monitoring the dynamics within and beyond their team. The leader should be sensitive and alert to people’s differing needs, so everyone is working and contributing in a way that provides alignment to their work goals and leads to strong synergies.

Jai believes that celebrating wins is very important, whether they be individual, team or collective wins. She says this helps people understand the importance of what they are doing. She combines this with feedback to enhance learning, so everyone understands what went well, what didn’t and how things could be done better the next time.

Jai notes that each job is a stage in someone’s career. The leader’s role is to recognise the stage each person is at and this includes when they are ready to move on to their next position. The leaders’ role is to support people, not only in their current position but in the transition to a new role, whether that is within the current work environment or a different one.

When asked about a leader she admired, she spoke about the head of a large government agency. Jai attended a talk that he gave a short while after he was appointed to the position. She was a senior executive at that time and, and had 300 different tasks and projects she was trying to juggle. The leader said he had only three post-it notes on his desk which were the key priorities he intended to achieve while he was head of the agency.

Jai said that what she most admired about this was the clarity and simplicity of his intent; and his laser focus on what he was going to achieve – all while dealing with the noise and multiplicity of the demands of his role.

This made her aspire to having that clarity, brevity and focus herself, so that three essential goals would be enough.  As a result, she said she learned to identify and focus on what her key contribution would be, whilst also dealing with the everyday demands of her own role.

Finally, she says, to achieve the agreed leadership vision, “Everyone should be ‘in the boat’. It’s the leader’s role to get them in the boat and help everyone to reach that destination.”

Contributor: Dr Catherine Burrows is a Sydney-based executive coach, available in Wollongong, Newcastle, Western NSW and other areas by arrangement. Catherine is a Founding Partner of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting.

Leadership series – Rod Towney

Many of our clients want to work with us on leadership. So, we decided to start the year by asking leaders we know about the foundations and challenges of leadership.

We begin the series with an interview with Rod Towney. Rod is a Wiradjuri elder and the most senior Aboriginal staff member in TAFE NSW.

Rod Towney PSM: Leadership has its foundation in respect

Executive Coach Exchange Rod Towney leader
Rod Towney

Rod is a leader in two cultures, the Aboriginal culture and the non-Aboriginal culture. He traces his leadership back to his childhood, growing up on the Mission. He said that he always knew who his elders were and still knows who they are; so his leadership has its foundation in respect.

Rod said he believes that the characteristics of a real leader are that:

  • You must lead people in the right direction
  • You must not take backward steps
  • You must be courageous and assertive when you know you are right
  • People must recognise your honesty and fairness
  • You must be a good, solid role model.

Rod told us when he was a little feller, some of the senior men, the uncles, chose future leaders from amongst the young boys. The uncles took those boys into the bush where they learned about hunting, fishing and the weather. Not everyone is chosen to learn about cultural knowledge in depth: Rod was one those chosen and feels blessed to have been chosen in this way; he notes this means he has been given responsibilities for his people’s well-being. Rod said that an Aboriginal leader is a leader amongst equals.

Rod has had a remarkable career, being elected to the regional Aboriginal Land Council at a relatively young age and from there eventually becoming Chair of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council. He has also been a member of ATSIC and Deputy Mayor of the Dubbo City Council. As a Senior TAFE Manager, he works over the vast Western Region of NSW, from Lithgow to Broken Hill and up to the Queensland border. He focuses on students getting the best outcomes from their study.

Possibly the most remarkable thing Rod has done was to speak at the United Nations General Assembly, when he represented the NSW Aboriginal Lands Council in the Human Rights arena. Many people, when asked about a leader they admire, name Nelson Mandela. Rod met Mr Mandela and his advice has influenced Rod in his work with non-Aboriginal people. Mr Mandela explained to Rod that, in Australia, Aboriginal people would need to work with non-Aboriginal people because they were so out-numbered, a different situation from that in Africa. Rod said he took this advice to heart and tries to work effectively with non-Aboriginal people to achieve outcomes for the Aboriginal Peoples he represents.

We asked Rod about a person he admired, as well as Nelson Mandela. He named several people, including a School Principal at Wellington, Mr Cahill, who encouraged and supported the Aboriginal children to go further and do their best. He also said that the Uncles and Aunties were heroes in their family.

Most of all, though, Rod admires his mother and grandfather, who inspired him, instilling discipline and a strong work ethic. He said they told him he was as good as anyone and encouraged and supported him in his decision to go to university. Crucially, they protected him from being taken away, helping the children hide in the bush when people came to take them. For Rod, this meant that he grew up as a Wiradjuri man in his own culture and this has formed the foundation for his life.

Contributor: Dr Catherine Burrows is a Sydney-based executive coach, available in Wollongong, Newcastle, Western NSW and other areas by arrangement. Catherine is a Founding Partner of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting.