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Leaders for Geelong Canberra Delegation 2016


Arriving in our nation's capital, our heads were still in work mode but slowly we started to switch our thoughts to the coming days as we exchanged ideas on hot political topics. The spring crispness snapped us into political mode as we all speculated about what we were going to encounter and how our politicians may receive us and our questions.  With the privilege of this opportunity, I was primed with questions and information that I was seeking answers to.

Overall what emerged for me were four key themes - some that I expected and some not so expected. 

  • Communication

There were many tips and ideas that were shared with us from officials from various levels and interests. No matter what industry or sector we may have been representing, there would have been ideas to implement or improve on.  I found getting back to basics and keeping to the high level when writing or presenting your idea or policy was an important reminder as we can all get too caught up in the detail at times to keep this at the fore.  Answering the 'so what?' question and then testing this via the 'elevator test' was essential in the political realm but also for all of us to take away.

I was reminded of - and would like to see more - solution focussed organisational approaches where an identified problem is celebrated, but not dwelled on, and where emphasis is placed on the solution. As our speakers inferred to us, a 'blame culture' is not productive, especially in government.

In today's changing media landscape it was also interesting and insightful to hear about the influences and changes it has brought to modern politics.  The rapid rise of social media and its impact was a theme across all speakers and the way it has probably caught us all off guard.  A senior journalist we spoke with described the change in our attention spans, and the need to fill the content vacuum of the 24 hour news cycle, as a big influencer of the current trends in media today and important for us all to be wary of.


  • Relationship Management

Many of the people we spoke with couldn't underestimate the impact that good relationship management skills had on their work in government.  Most stated when asked about the key leadership skills in government that relationships were pivotal in all aspects of their work.  I don't think that this would be any different from other sectors, however it reinforced the fact that, even in today's digital space, the need to foster genuine human relationships will probably never be redundant.  The political arena will always be a 'human' place and we can all bring more respect and courteous behaviours into our workplaces.

I also took some excellent advice from an ex-Senior Advisor - that bringing positivity to the table and doing the 'little things' that make a big difference for people, goes a long way to forming key co-beneficial relationships.  This complemented other speakers we heard from who advised that good and effective listening was key to successful relationship building and diplomacy. 

I also reflected on the contrast between corporate leadership; with its control and decision making authority, and political leadership; where the emphasis is on bringing everyone together, effective communications and relationship building.


  • State History and Tradition

I think I had underestimated the extent to which tradition dictates much of the system and processes that we see in today's political environment.  For our group, this was demonstrated to us as straight off the plane we visited Menzies House (the Headquarters of the Liberal Party).  Built in the 1960's - with all the regal and stately furnishings, it was sitting at the big round table - that had undoubtedly seen discussions (both amicable and blood thirsty) that have shaped our recent history - that confirmed my view of the powerful traditions at play.  This symbolism and tradition was also exhibited through the expanse of Parliament House, as we toured the manicured gardens and walked on the polished floors.

I thought a lot about one of the speakers comparing politics to the judicial system and this set the scene for our time visiting Parliament House. Despite 'Question Time' providing the element of theatre that we are all familiar with dominating our screens.  The behaviour exhibited was inconsistent with the respect and honest collaboration that I saw during our time in Canberra.  I do, however challenge the archaic nature of some of these traditions, as in this modern environment some of the processes and systems seem to be in dire need of refreshing and questioning of their relevance. 


  • Leadership

The Leaders for Geelong group heard from a Brigadier in the Army and following his insights I now hold up my own leadership philosophy that 'the more diverse the team, the more powerful - as long as everyone is bounded by common values'.  Another reflection that stood true with me was the importance of obtaining contestable advice and that long-term thinking is vital in creating opportunities for communities. 


Overall, I was overwhelmed by the privileges and amount of access we had during our time in Canberra.  I highly respect our politicians and government officials for their common purpose and goal for Australia and respect that they have different approaches and methodologies on how to achieve this vision.  This couldn't have been more apparent after hearing politicians Tim Wilson and Tim Watts providing a lively and colourful debate on one of the current issues facing the government - the plebiscite on marriage equality.  I also understand more about the mechanics of a political party and have a lens on the political landscape both past and present.  I believe I am more engaged with political processes and I feel that we as a community should embrace trying to find the point of unity, not the point of difference, when thinking about a political issue.  I would love to see everyone in our community more engaged with our political systems and policies both at a local and national level. 

On behalf of all the Leaders for Geelong participants in the 2016 delegation, I sincerely acknowledge the considerable amount of work and effort that Rosemary White, Committee for Geelong's Leadership Manager, together with James Baird and Karen Cartwright of StratHouse, put into the logistics of this trip and I thank them for the opportunity to participate in this aspect of the program.

Kerryn Lester-Smith - Leaders for Geelong 2016



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