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My Leadership Journey on the Australian Rural Leadership Program

 

It is with mixed emotions that I write this blog.  I am sad that course 26 of the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) has concluded and grateful for the opportunity I had to be part of this program.  I have finished feeling energised, excited, and empowered as a leader and better equipped to advocate for regional, rural, and remote Australia.

As one of the founders and directors of C7EVEN, a specialist regional marketing, and communications agency, and with my roots deeply entrenched in family farming operations, I have always been a passionate advocate for rural Australia and its communities.

Yet, I have always struggled with what leadership is and my role as a leader. At best, my definition of leadership was through a singular lens. A workplace lens that focussed on leading a team to achieve high performance. To create a shared vision and providing the support and tools to a team to achieve that vision.

However, I know now this is a narrow focus. I was missing the leadership perspectives of self, family community, region, nation, and the world. As rural leaders, we can influence and galvanise change for good from each of these perspectives. I have also realised that anyone can be a leader. However, we must have the courage to step forward into leadership.

So here is an insight into my leadership journey so far.

I want to tell this story as a reflective journey. Reflection is such a critical leadership skill and has undoubtedly developed in me in the last two years while completing the program. This reflective journey is through three activation lenses – What am I thinking (Head), what am I feeling (Heart), and what am I going to do (Hand).

HEAD – What am I thinking?

The very first session of the ARLP was in The Kimberley in Western Australia. A truly unique experiential learning opportunity. The catch-cry was to ‘get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We were pushed physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually into areas we have never explored or contemplated before. As individuals, we are very comfortable pushing ourselves to 80% of what might seem possible. This session was designed to move into that extra 20% and reach new heights we never thought possible.

This session was about understanding yourself and others, the behaviours we see in ourselves and others, and what might influence this. We learned behaviour is just the tip of the iceberg; it is the part that we see. We must understand what is influencing those behaviours below the surface before we as leaders can seek to modify our behaviours and the behaviours of others. These influences could be environmental factors, past experiences, beliefs, or personal values.

As I sat in the middle of the Kimberley, I reflected on my values and how they might be influencing my behaviours as a leader.  I have carried this experience through the program, and I am now very conscious of this influence.

You cannot judge a book by its cover. You must open it up, read it, learn from it, and get to know it. We must understand what drives behaviours, and then we can seek to harness or change these behaviours.

 

HEART – What am I feeling?

The last two years have been a difficult time for all Australian’s. ARLP course 26 was no different, delivered against the backdrop of the worst drought in history, the most devastating bush fires on record, widespread flooding, and the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Like all Australian’s we have had to remain resilient, pivot, adapt, problem solves, and advocate for change – all the leadership practices of the ARLP – awareness, action, authenticity, adaption, affiliation, and advocacy – have been needed. Covid has seen the structure of the program for course 26 dramatically change. We have missed out on the opportunity to have an overseas session in Vietnam, and the Canberra session was delivered in smaller-group hubs in regional locations around the country.

This change in environment and experience has taught me that often when we lead change, participate in change or have change thrust upon us, we see three things that can happen:

  • We lose something.
  • We gain something.
  • Nothing changes.

Often as leaders, we try to be positive and talk about what we will gain. However, through the recent difficulties in regional Australia and Covid, I realise the importance of acknowledging what we also lose is just as important. For some, this is the hardest part to overcome.  If we are to improve the outcomes for regional Australia, I feel this is a critical element in leadership we need to get right. Often this is where we find the detractors and the naysayers. As a leader, I feel we must be better at leading effectively through loss and being an agent of change for positivity by acknowledging the breadth of feelings and emotions.

 

HAND: What am I going to do?

As a participant in the ARLP, I have the utmost appreciation for this opportunity and the learnings it has provided. The experiential learning aspect is something I will never forget.

I firmly believe I now have a duty to use this knowledge and experience to improve the wellbeing of regional, rural, and remote Australia. I aim to step up as an agent of change and use my leadership to deliver real and meaningful outcomes that benefit my community, region, and nation.

To do this, I must step out from the weeds and force myself to take a more elevated balcony view and perspective as a leader. To do this, I am committed to adapting my communication to the situation and ensuring I communicate constantly. I will show empathy and give myself the time to interpret and see things from different perspectives and views. I will be vulnerable, open, and transparent. Finally, I will be optimistic. In the past regional and rural Australia has been portrayed through a deficit discourse. I will be a positive leader and demonstrate the opportunities and the outcomes that can be achieved.

So, my pledge is I will not let this opportunity go to waste. I am motivated and energised to make a positive difference. I am committed to ensuring that this ‘gift’ in the form of the Australian Rural Leadership Program is ‘paid forward’ through my effective leadership for regional, rural, and remote Australia.

 

Thanks:

I want to thank Telstra Corporation Limited for their support in this program. I would like to personally thank Ben Gursansky and Nicole Ward from the Telstra regional team for backing me and sponsoring me in this program. I hope I can repay their generosity and commitment to regional Australia in the future.

A special thanks to The Australian Rural Leadership Foundation. They aim to develop leaders for rural, regional, and remote Australia.  I am forever grateful to graduate and join such diverse and inspiring alumni.

My final message is we will never lead if we stay in our 80% zone. Authentic leadership comes when we push into the last 20%. This is the uncomfortable part of leadership, and consequently, we must get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

–  Adam Arndell, Director

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